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Lessons not learned.

Cries of dismay are everywhere in the food industry over the proposed implementation date of the Nutrition Labeling & Education Act. Even the rumblings of a nine-month extension have sparked criticism from food industry groups, which contend that a 12-month delay is necessary.

While many look ahead and shout about the impending doom, very few people fail to recognize or admit the circumstances that lead to the NLEA. Part of it is the "new consumerism", but a larger part of the stricter regulations can be traced to misleading labels and half-truths in marketing.

Even in an era of increasing label scrutiny, food companies are labeling foods with suspect jargon that tests the limits of common sense.

Serving sizes for many premium packaged luncheon meats border on the ridiculous. Typically, it's one slice (approximately 1/3 oz) per serving or portion. In order to keep the fat content and calorie counts low, these meats are sliced so thin that it's very difficult to pull them apart without tearing the individual slices.

A new canola oil product proclaims "94% saturated fat free" on its label. I showed the product to several people. Many of them perceived the product to be 94% fat free or contain less fat than other oils. A majority of consumers cannot differentiate between polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, and saturated fats. And the label designers know this.

The canola oil example points to an established trend of emphasizing what's not in a product. Many times you'll see the phrases of "contains no cholesterol", "sodium free", or "preservative free" on food products that have never contained these components.

Some of the blame for misleading labels goes to overzealous marketing departments. These are the same people who are largely responsible for the new products on our store shelves--of which 85-90% fail. Can you imagine what would happen to engineering departments if 85-90% of their production & packaging lines failed?

Perhaps, I'm being too hard on product, brand, and marketing managers. They've given us the exacting science of market research (which makes Reagan's voodoo economics look like Boolean algebra) and telemarketing.

If the NLEA is implemented by May 1993, it will reportedly cost the food industry $3.3 billion. Rather than pass these costs on to their consumers, food companies should look internally for cost savings.

Bob Swientek

Editor-in-Chief

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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Over the Editor's Shoulder
Author:Swientek, Bob
Publication:Food Processing
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jul 1, 1992
Words:383
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