Food Labels May be Inaccurate, Despite FDA Inspections

An FDA report on efforts to get rid of misleading nutrition and health claims on food labels is misleading itself.

While the FDA report implies that more than 28,000 food labels were checked in a 14-month period, they only checked to see whether or not the Nutrition Facts panel was present, rather than whether or not it was accurate.

Bruce Silverglade, the legal director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), argued that "the accuracy of Nutrition Facts labels and misleading health-related claims ... have been the casualty of not only budget cuts, but a lack of commitment on the part of the Agency to fulfill its mission."

He went on to say that the FDA should crack down on inaccurate labeling such as deceptive "0 trans fat" claims and misleading "made with real fruit" statements, rather than simply glancing at labels.

CSPI urged Congress to increase funding to the FDA and direct the FDA to make systematic supermarket sweeps and accuracy tests of Nutrition Facts labels.

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

Simply checking to see whether a Nutrition Facts panel was present on the label is hardly the information necessary to help Americans make healthier food choices. Don't expect the government to protect your health. It's up to you to assume total responsibility for the choices you make or don't.

Roughly one out of every 10 food product labels contain inaccuracies. And be aware that even if it is considered "accurate," a food label must be more than 20 percent off in order for it to violate federal law, and government food labs have a 10 percent margin of error.

This means that an item labeled as having 400 calories can legally have up to 480 calories, and the 10 percent margin of error can bring it up to over 500.

Some foods, particularly those making low-fat, low-carb or no-sugar claims, contain drastically different nutrients than are listed on the label, and food products that say they contain milk, fruit or vegetables may not contain them at all.

There is also the potentially daunting task of trying to decipher what exactly certain ingredients are. For instance, if you were trying to avoid corn, you would have to avoid not only anything listed as corn, but also:

  • Malt
  • Malt extract and syrup
  • Sorbitol
  • Food starch
  • Dextrin
  • Fructose and fructose syrup
  • Baking powder
  • Monosodium glutamate
  • Maltodextrin
  • Starch
  • Confectioner's sugar

All of these items could potentially be made from corn, but unless you are specifically aware of what to look for it would be easy to overlook these items when looking for corn on an ingredient label.

Here are some tips to ensure that you know exactly what you are eating:

  • Don't eat packaged or processed foods
  • Eat whole foods
  • Make your food at home

If you are used to relying on processed foods then this may sound difficult -- after all, although 80 percent of Americans read food labels, 44 percent will still choose to buy a food that they know is bad for them! But it is actually just a difference in mindset. Choosing whole foods like fresh produce, organic meat and eggs and other "real" food is the natural way to eat, and once you start eating this way it will seem only natural to you.

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