Thursday, November 4, 2010

Front of the Box

Inspired by Michael Jacobson's blog in the Huffington Post yesterday, I decided to do some more research into food labels and "front of the box" activities. This summer, inspired by my niece, I offered the idea that we only eat things less than five degrees from nature. That work inspired further research into processed food and I then thought it would be a good idea if the processed food box was required to list what had to happen to get the food in the box. 

Combine all of those thoughts with some of the ways the U.K. uses labels to help consumers and....  I have designed a "front of the box" label for all food sold in the U.S. Yes, you are welcome. We can now avoid and eliminate months of wrangling and politics and simply implement my idea. I'll even give it away!

My front of the box label looks like this ------->

As you can see, it is very clear from the beginning the food is processed. The label then lists each ingredient (with synonyms) and describes the process used to create the ingredient. 

Doing this research was frightening. I have no clue what "epimerized" means and I'm too afraid to look. To make matters worse, in the attempt to find this information I came across a catalogue of food additive manufacturers based in China.

Are the majority of our food additives made in China? Given some of the concerns with pet food and baby formula recently, this is really scary. Not to mention the fact many of these additives say "safe for infant food" on them. Safe? Who made that decision? The FDA and the GRAS list? Am I the only one who is a bit skeptical here? Apologies for the rant. Back to the label...

The bottom of the front of the box food label lists Fat, Sugar and Salt with easily understood, colored stickers. This particular product (a real product and a relatively "healthy" one which I omitted the name from to protect the innocent) scored all green. The protocol for the labels would also allow for yellow and red stickers. It would be relatively easy to educate the public on how to use this system: Choose products with mostly green stickers. Yellow stickers are to be used in moderation. Avoid things with red stickers. 

Of course, there are some details to work out and maybe we add another category or two into the sticker system. This box label gives consumers the information they need to make better choices about the food they buy and consume. Shoppers would be able to quickly see information and would not be distracted by cartoon characters and health claims. Plus, it would help to educate people on what the "processed" in processed food actually means. I don't know about you, but this information would certainly impact my eating decisions. And I think, over time, it would improve the way food is made for Americans. 

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