Do you read the ingredient label when shopping for food products? No need to hide your face in shame if you say no. Can’t see you any way. But seems, most of us do.
According to a Packaged Facts report issued last year, 87 percent of Americans look at the Nutrition Facts panel on packaged foods and beverages at least sometimes, while more than half (56 percent) actively seek out nutritional information and guidelines.
Additional stats from that survey worth considering: Two out of three consumers (67 percent) favor groceries with fewer and simpler ingredients, while roughly the same percentage take nutritional content statements, ingredient-free statements, and statements about health benefits into consideration when buying packaged foods and beverages.
OK, so I guess the general answer is, yes, you probably read labels. The bigger question these days however, is whether consumers will actually read electronic QR codes on their Smartphones? U.S. senators believe so, which is how they were a able to craft the recently passed GMO labeling bill last week — a compromise that addresses consumer demand for transparency (93 percent) and food manufacturers concern about packaging and regulatory costs, particularly if individual states passed their own laws about labeling.
Manufacturers cite Vermont’s law, which went into effect July 1, and the fear of dealing with a slew of non-uniform labeling regulations on a state-by-state basis. Good cause for concern.
So this compromise bill, fast-tracked through the Senate to create a pre-emptive federal labeling bill, addresses that issue. In addition to getting the backing of major and midsized food manufacturers as well as related associations — the National Confectioners Association supports the measure — the Organic Trade Association supported the Senate bill, albeit with some qualifiers. Here’s a quote from their website:
“While not perfect, this bill covers thousands more products than Vermont’s GMO labeling law and other state initiatives. It will not allow products that are exempt from informing consumers about their GMO content to automatically slap on a non-GMO claim. And it makes a huge advance in recognizing and safeguarding USDA certified organic as the gold standard for transparency and non-GMO status.”
Hey, everyone has their own agenda these days. And in a few hours or days, we’ll find out whether the House passes the Senate’s version of the bill. Given its track record to date, I’m not sure that’s a slam dunk. But I’m trying to stay optimistic in a presidential election year, even though my man Bernie lost out.
So say the bill passes, what’s next?
Continued opposition, even lawsuits, is what I hear. According to the Consumerist, The FDA says that this lax labeling requirement [QR labels] would be “in tension with FDA’s statute and regulations, which require disclosures on food labels. For example, under FDA’s provisions, information such as Nutrition Facts and the list of ingredients must be displayed directly on the label.”
An inter-agency fight won’t be pretty. That’s one hurdle. And let’s not forget the two Vermont senators (Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy) who opposed the Senate’s bill. I don’t think they’re going to go quietly into the night on this.
Then there’s the question of how many consumers actually read bar codes. Well, according to the Food Marketing Institute’s 2016 U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends, only 20 percent do so. I expect that figure with be bandied about by several consumer rights groups in court.
But regardless of how many consumers use their smartphones to read labels today, I do believe that the percentage will increase. Just a matter of time. Also, I do think the SmartLabel program is a good thing for all parties involved.
Manufacturers can use it to be completely transparent as well as reinforce brand awareness with consumers. And consumers can find out more than they even knew existed about a product’s makeup than ever could be put on a label. It’s the wave of the future.
Will this satisfy everybody? No. Will it get messy? I’m sure. After all, this is the most litigious country in the world. Just ask the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. But it’s a step toward transparency. And that’s really what’s most important.