The US food industry has long buried the truth about their products. Is that coming to an end?

Last Updated: June 17, 2024By

Navigating Nutritional Labels: A Global Perspective


Ever strolled into a French grocery store? Bet you’ve noticed those colorful grades plastered on food packages, right? From vibrant greens to glaring reds, they’re like traffic lights for your diet – a green “A” means go for it, while a red “E” signals danger ahead. Now, zip over to Chile, and that traffic light system turns into a stop sign, warning you about high sugar, salt, fat, or calorie content in your grub.

These days, over a dozen countries demand companies slap nutritional labels right on the front of their products. And why? Well, as diet-related diseases like hypertension, diabetes, and heart problems skyrocket, folks are clamoring for more info on what they’re eating.

Yet, the good ol’ US of A hasn’t jumped on the bandwagon – yet. But change might be brewing. The FDA’s toying with the idea of introducing front-of-package labels by 2027. Despite big food companies kicking up a fuss, the FDA’s on the hunt for the best label design that’ll not only educate but also pass muster with the law.


With research uncovering the not-so-sunny side of ultra-processed foods (UPFs) – those factory-made munchies packed with sugars, salts, and fats – the talk around nutritional labels is heating up. These UPFs, from sugary cereals to microwave meals, are filling up our shelves and bellies, contributing to a whole buffet of health issues.

Back in the day, feeding the masses year-round was the food industry’s big challenge. But then came the industrial food revolution, solving that problem and then some, at least in the developed world.

“In the 1970s, many food companies began voluntarily printing nutrition facts on their packages, and the FDA began requiring it in 1993.”


But here’s the kicker – despite all these labels, rates of diet-related diseases kept climbing. In the US alone, over a million folks kick the bucket from diet-related issues every year. So, in 2006, a group called the Center for Science in the Public Interest piped up, asking the FDA for front-of-package labels. They argued that the current nutrition labels were about as clear as mud and easily ignored.

Now, fast forward to today, and we’ve got a front-of-package label showdown. On one side, you’ve got the Facts Up Front gang, a voluntary label initiative by food bigwigs. Then, down South in Latin America, you’ve got countries like Chile slapping on stark warning labels for high-sugar, high-salt, high-fat foods.

But here’s the rub – while Latin America’s embracing the “high in” label trend, the US is eyeing up a traffic light system like the one in Europe. But thanks to free speech laws, we’re unlikely to see a bold “Don’t eat this!” sign anytime soon.

Meanwhile, the food industry’s fighting tooth and nail against stricter labeling, pulling a page straight out of Big Tobacco’s playbook. They’re all for self-regulation, but critics ain’t buying it.

Now, label advocates reckon it’s about time we had clearer info on what we’re munching on. Parents especially wanna make healthier choices for their kiddos. Labels ain’t about banning your favorite snacks but giving you the lowdown so you can decide for yourself.

But hey, this labeling saga ain’t over yet. The FDA’s still mulling over their rule, and depending on who’s sitting in the White House, things could swing either way. So, buckle up – the labeling rollercoaster’s far from over!

That’s a really critical stage because that’s when the food industry is going to start meeting not just with the FDA, but with the White House and saying: ‘Maybe you should hold on to this, not publish it so close to an election,’” said Eva Greenthal, a CSPI senior policy scientist.

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