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AG Mills Urges FDA to Fight Obesity with Truthful Food Labeling
August 2, 2010
Maine Attorney General Janet Mills joined Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and ten other state attorneys general in urging the Food and Drug Administration to adopt stringent guidelines for food labeling.
In a joint statement to the FDA, the twelve attorneys general proposed that food products contain “front-of-package” labels containing complete nutritional information, both good and bad, in common sense language to help consumers make healthy food choices for their families.
“Combating chronic diseases and obesity is one of the most important public health missions of our time,” Attorney General Mills stated. “Providing consumers with accurate and meaningful nutrition information is an important step in addressing the epidemic of obesity which is contributing to heart disease, diabetes and shortened lives for adults and children alike in our society.”
The position of the attorneys general stems from a recent multistate investigation of the “Smart Choices Program,” a voluntary labeling program designed by the food industry itself. In some cases, the investigation found, cereals which were labeled as being nutritionally acceptable contained as much as 12 grams of sugar per one-cup serving—approximately 40 percent of the serving by weight.
The Smart Choices Program appeared to cherry-pick criteria from many different guidelines in order to include as many products as possible. The states alleged the program was misleading, confusing and ultimately deceptive under Connecticut’s consumer protection laws. Shortly after the multistate investigation aired the concerns of the attorneys general, the food industry suspended the Smart Choices program indefinitely.
This industry-run program illustrated the need for a uniform labeling system to provide consumers with an accurate nutrition picture of the products available to them, Connecticut Attorney General Blumenthal stated.
The attorneys general urged the FDA to follow specific principles in its labeling standards:
• Transparency of underlying standards. Any national front-of-package labeling system should be based on publicly available standards, including an updated version of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005, containing the best available nutritional criteria.
• Applicability. Front-of-package labels should apply to as many foods as possible and not require payment by food manufacturers beyond a reasonable licensing fee.
• Understandability. Labels should be readily understandable by people of varying educational levels, based on the best consumer research.
• Helpfulness. Labels should be designed to facilitate informed and healthy consumer choices.
• Uniformity. A national, uniform front-of-package label should be the sole nutritional label on the front of food packages. Competing graphics or messages would only mislead consumers and undermine the effort to provide clear information.
States joining the formal comments to the FDA include: Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee and Vermont.
CONTACT: Maine Attorney General (207) 626-8599
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