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Proposed FDA reforms target hidden ingredients, "health" claims.

The government has promised "truth in labeling" to food buyers for years, but only now does this ideal seem to be on the verge of becoming a reality.

Last November, the Food and Drug Administration proposed 400 pages of regulations on food labeling reform. This, together with U.S. Department of Agriculture proposals for changing meat and poultry packaging labels, will be the biggest change in food labeling requirements in 20 years, if the proposals become law in May 1993.

These are some of the things we can look for:

Exposing the hidden ingredients: Most people now know that all ingredients must be listed in descending order by weight--but that doesn't tell us how much of each ingredient is in the product. The poor consumer trying to get an accurate sugar content would be at a loss if several of those ingredients are different kinds of sweeteners (e.g., sucrose, dextrose, and corn syrup, which vary in caloric content). In some breakfast cereals, if all those ingredients were stated simply as "sugar," they could be the first one in order ! In a previous article, we noted that lactase-deficient persons might not suspect that flavor enhancers listed only as "protein hydrolysates" or even just "natural flavoring" could contain the milk protein they were trying to avoid. Even worse is the misleading "no cholesterol" that appears on so many products; yet these products contain a large percentage of saturated fat that turns into cholesterol in the body. Hopefully, we can look for more detailed disclosure under the new regulations.

"Fat free" claims: What about the meat product that claims to be "80 percent fat-free" when most of its calories may come from fat? (Each gram of fat provides nine calories, compared to the carbohydrates or protein in it that only provide four calories per gram.) The new regulations would only allow products that contain 3 grams or less of fat per 100 grams of food to make "percent fat-free" claims--thus eliminating most meat and poultry products. Two new designations for these products are being proposed: lean (less than 10.4 grams of fat per 100 grams of the food) and extra lean (less than 4.9 grams of fat).

Those "extra healthy" products: We've been bombarded with ads for foods that allegedly protect against disease because of such special ingredients as fiber, oats, calcium, etc. (One of the most amusing is a fatcontaining brand of potato chip that includes a few oat bits glued onto each chip in the package.) The only way the FDA would allow such a health claim under the proposed new guidelines is when it decides that scientific evidence warrants associating any ingredient with prevention of a particular disease, and when that ingredient appears in meaningful quantities. Nor would the administration allow any product that contains defined high levels of fat, cholesterol, or sodium to make any such health claims.

The lobbying groups that represent consumers, manufacturers, producers, etc., will ultimately determine whether any of the proposed regulations will make it into law. If Congress doesn't allow the FDA enough funds to police the regulations adequately, we can be sure that there will be plenty of cheaters out there who will try to circumvent the regulations.
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Title Annotation:Food and Drug Administration
Publication:Medical Update
Date:Jul 1, 1992
Previous Article:Treating alcoholism - is hospitalization best?
Next Article:What you get may be what you don't see.

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