The Believe-ability of Nutrition Labels

As the menu labeling debate heats up and as the House moves to undercut progress being made to require more transparent nutrition information, there are signs that not all information is believable.

Photo: http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2014/07/a-whole-foods-365-greek-yogurt-has-five-times-more-sugar-than-its-nutrition-label-shows/index.htm

Photo: http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2014/07/a-whole-foods-365-greek-yogurt-has-five-times-more-sugar-than-its-nutrition-label-shows/index.htm

This is coming to light - and it's not the first time - courtesy of Whole Foods 365 yogurt.  Eleven lawsuits later, it's becoming clear that the sugar content in the yogurt might be vastly underestimated.  Red flags were raised when the sugar claims (just 2 grams per 225 g serving!) seemed so low, particularly compared to competitor products on the market. 

Consumer Reports testing on this product showed sugar levels nearly six times what the label tells us is in the yogurt.  This exceeds - by a significant margin - the 20 percent threshold FDA has for nutrition labels that violate the Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act.  Yet the plaintiffs relied on only a small number of samples, too small in fact for a judge to hear the case. 

Presumably the plaintiffs are now going back to the testing drawing board to see if they can "prove" the high sugar content with more samples.  

Nonetheless, this raises serious issues for labeling of packaged goods - and menu labeling as it begins to take hold across the country.  If the nutrition facts seem "believable" enough, what percentage of foods are inaccurately labeled?  Not to mention, the 20 percent margin seems pretty wide in order to violate FDCA.

While I'm all for labeling and promoting consumer awareness, there's a certain trust we put into the food supply that at the very least, the information we're provided is accurate.