The New York Times reports this morning that the FDA will step up enforcement of what it considers to be misleading health claims on the front labels of packaged foods.
Interest in foods designated as natural, organic, healthy, humane, fair trade has grown among consumers. Certifying organizations and marketing programs have grown correspondingly to help manufacturers and marketers position foods in those categories, but consumer understanding of the various designations and their true significance has not kept pace. We saw this in the Peanut Company of America recall, when consumers expressed shock upon learning that organic and kosher certifications were not focused on microbiological safety issues. The industry knew that, but not consumers.
There is certainly a role for regulatory agencies in policing the claims of food manufacturers, but nothing beats an educated consumer on these matters. The difficulty is that few manufacturers or agencies provide much transparency on their certifications, inspections, standards and rules.