When it comes to food label design, it seems there are no shortage of dissenting opinions. After all, this particular topic has become one of the most controversial global talking points among health advocates and corporate interests over the past several years, and not without reason. There are all too many examples of rising obesity trends in developed countries around the world, a phenomenon which many are claiming is due to misleading food product labels which fail to illustrate in “plain speak” the myriad of potentially harmful additives in the foods we eat today.
That being said, those who advocate against food label reform claim that the changes desired by pro-label reformists actually result in little to no positive benefit at a significant expense to food manufacturers. Additionally, in an effort to offset the costs of label re-printing, food manufacturers will often raise the prices of the items themselves. Therefore, it could be argued that the push for increased transparency in the realm of nutrition is actually punishing consumers instead of helping them.
Therefore, in order to create an informed evaluation of this particular topic, the most important question that must be asked is this: do the labels on processed foods actually assist customers with making informed nutritional decisions, or is this simply a waste of space?
The answer is, unfortunately, much more convoluted than most of us would like. After all, there exist substantial freedoms when businesses decide exactly how to word the content which appears on their labels. Items which are “natural”, “sugar-free” or “no hormone”, to name a few, can be quite misleading. The details make all the difference in a situation like this. For example, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has recently cracked down on milk providers claiming that their products are “hormone free” when, in fact, all milk contains the BST hormone. What the milk companies are implying is that their product does not contain BST, and yet, the labelling does not make this clear. Therefore, this could easily represent an example in which labelling has resulted in increased confusion for the consumer as opposed to further transparency.
Although this particular story remains merely an anecdotal example as opposed to a larger statement on the industry as a whole, it is not only milk producers who are using crafty labelling techniques to their advantage. Ultimately, no matter how many new labelling initiatives have been created, the fundamental distrust of the actual label content that has exacted for years still, unfortunately, remains.
Does this mean to imply that food label reform should be halted entirely? Not at all. In fact, it is extremely important that label reform advocates continue to push for new paradigms in product labelling that will safeguard future generations of consumers. However, a healthy dose of pragmatism and practicality on behalf of label reform advocates will ensure that their concerns appear legitimate as opposed to manic and overblown. History has shown us that real change occurs when those intent on reform present their arguments in logically compelling ways. In food label reform advocates are going to create substantive change on processed food labels, they must be able to convince skeptics that A.) Consumer will be able to better understand these labels and, consequently, make better decisions about them, and B.) The text on the label actually influences consumer purchasing decisions. Until both of these parameters can be proven beyond a doubt, the road ahead may be rocky, indeed