As with many instances in which the public welfare is challenged by businesses seeking to circumvent “honesty in advertising” regulations, the evolution of government-mandated food and drug labeling laws reflects the challenge of trying to stay one step ahead of those who would deceive consumes regarding the contents of the packaging in question. The Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938 was a response by members of Congress to ongoing problems involving the interstate transportation of mislabeled and sometimes harmful goods, notably the negligent manufacture of a medication that resulted in over 100 deaths. Since that law was passed, it has had to be amended numerous times to ensure that companies do not threaten the public welfare through inaccurate or misleading packaging, and to provide the public with essential information regarding the nutritional value of the foods it purchases. Marketing that claims certain nutritional benefits through consumption of the contents of the package is required to reflect accurate scientifically-derived information.
The result of the history of food and other consumer good labeling in the United States is the current requirement reflected on packaging. Whether individual consumers choose to avail themselves of the information presented on the labels is entirely their choice; that the information is required to be present and accurate is the culmination of a long history of inaccurate and misleading – sometimes to the detriment of public health – packaging and advertising.
When evaluating product labels, consumes focus on their priorities. Concerns regarding obesity rates in the United States and incidences of life-threatening – and financially costly – illnesses directly related to unhealthy dietary practices have made the nutritional information available on labels more important than ever. The most important details provided on food labels are specific quantities of saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium present, as well as the carbohydrate levels. Individuals with blood pressure or cholesterol problems know to examine that data when considering the purchase of certain items. In addition, people with food sensitivities or allergies – especially peanut allergies – know to read the list of ingredients for substances from which an adverse reaction is likely. Certain people are sensitive to the cosmetic element of food packaging, for example, food coloring additives intended to make the food’s appearance more palatable. People with a sensitivity to monosodium glutamate look for that particular ingredient on food labels.
While food labels include information on vitamin and mineral benefits, most nutritional experts agree that consuming vitamins and minerals through processed foods is far less efficient than through fruits and vegetables. Be that as it may, that information is provided as a means of monitoring vitamin intake.
Evaluating food labels is not difficult; it does add the amount of time spent shopping for groceries, but for many people, it is time well-spent.