Term Paper: Food Label Policy

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Food Labeling

Mandatory Food Labeling in America

Concerns about food content and purity have a long history, not simply in America, but in the history of the world. To protect the health of the consumer, governments have long attempted to regulate what can or can not be added to food products. Food producers have often attempted to alter foods in an effort to obtain the same price for diluted and even dangerous goods. "For instance, water has often been added to wine, the cream skimmed from milk, and chalk added to bread" (Law, 2004). Mandatory, accurate food labeling attempts to solve the problem of asymmetric information, as producers often know more about product quality than consumers. "Regulations that solve the asymmetric information problem benefit consumers who desire better information about product quality, as well as producers of higher quality products, who desire to segment the market" to favor their brands (Law, 2004). Labeling prevents cheaper and lower quality goods that look the same, but are made with cheaper materials not discernable to the naked eye at the point of purchase, from flooding the market (Law, 2004). Also, certain aspects of food such as the caloric content of foods or whether or not an item is "organic" may not be obvious to even a sophisticated consumer's eye or palate (Law, 2004).

From colonial times until the mid to late nineteenth century, most food and drug regulation in America overseen by state and local governments and pertained to specific foods. With the rise in consumption of processed foods and adulteration, there was a cry for more public information in the 19th century. Surprisingly, elements the food industry itself led the effort: "For instance, state and federal oleomargarine restrictions were clearly enacted at the behest of dairy producing interests" who wanted to discourage consumers from purchasing cheaper margarine (Law 2004) the first sweeping piece of federal legislation was the Pure Food and Drugs Act of 1906. It outlawed interstate trade of adulterated foods and "required producers to indicate the presence of mixtures and/or impurities on product labels" (Law, 2004). The law was favored large, national food manufacturers, who wanted to use federal legislation to disadvantage smaller, local firms from engaging in interstate commerce and who had fewer funds to clearly label their goods. The major figure or leading individual supporting the act was "Dr. Harvey Wiley, chief of the Bureau of Chemistry, called a bureaucratic entrepreneur "who sought to ensure the future of his agency. By building ties with pro-regulation interest groups and lobbying in favor of a federal food and drug law, Wiley secured a lasting policy area for what was to become the Food and Drug Administration, or FDA (Law, 2004).

The 1906 law was replaced by the 1938 Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics Act, which was designed to improve regulation of the patent medicine industry. The next major food labeling legislative act was the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990 (NLEA) which provided the FDA "with specific authority to require nutrition labeling of most foods regulated by the Agency; and to require that all nutrient content claims (i.e., 'high fiber', 'low fat', etc.) and health claims be consistent with agency regulations" ("Guide to Nutrition Labeling," 1994, FDA). In contrast to the 1906 and 1938 regulations, nutritionists and public health advocates rather than food producers were at the forefront of this legislative act, and one dietician remarked: "This significant and far-reaching law brings about the most fundamental revision of food labels in the more than 50 years since the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act was passed" (Wilkening, 1993:1).

The 1990 Act was designed to protect consumers against misleading product claims about food nutritional content and also misleading packaging information. It stipulated that nutritional information must be clearly displayed: "The total surface area available to bear labeling is a prime factor in determining placement of nutrition information determining available label space: flanges and ends (tops and bottoms) of cans; shoulders, necks and caps of bottles and jars; and folded flaps and other unusable area may be excluded.... Nutrition information must be set off in a box" ("Guide to Nutrition Labeling," 1994, FDA). "It also provide for more consistent serving sizes across product lines to reflect the amounts people actually eat," subverting a… [END OF PREVIEW]

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