Banning front-of-package food labels: First Amendment constraints on public health policy

Albert & Angela Farone Distinguished Professor of Law, Albany Law School, Albany, NY, USA.
Public Health Nutrition (Impact Factor: 2.48). 11/2010; 14(6):1123-6; discussion 1127. DOI: 10.1017/S1368980010002843
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT In recent months, the FDA has begun a crackdown on misleading nutrition and health claims on the front of food packages by issuing warning letters to manufacturers and promising to develop stricter regulatory standards. Leading nutrition policy experts Marion Nestle and David Ludwig have called for an even tougher approach: a ban on all nutrition and health claims on the front of food packages. Nestle and Ludwig argue that most of these claims are scientifically unsound and misleading to consumers and that eliminating them would 'aid educational efforts to encourage the public to eat whole or minimally processed foods and to read the ingredients list on processed foods'. Nestle and Ludwig are right to raise concerns about consumer protection and public health when it comes to front-of-package food labels, but an outright ban on front-of-package nutrition and health claims would violate the First Amendment. As nutrition policy experts develop efforts to regulate front-of-package nutrition and health claims, they should be mindful of First Amendment constraints on government regulation of commercial speech.

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    ABSTRACT: This review evaluates the methodological quality of current front-of-pack labeling research and discusses future research challenges. Peer-reviewed articles were identified using a computerized search of the databases PubMed and Web of Science (ISI) from 1990 to February 2011; reference lists from key published articles were used as well. The quality of the 31 included studies was assessed. The results showed that the methodological quality of published front-of-pack labeling research is generally low to mediocre; objective observational data-based consumer studies were of higher quality than consumer studies relying on self-reports. Experimental studies that included a control group were lacking. The review further revealed a lack of a validated methodology to measure the use of front-of-pack labels and the effects of these labels in real-life settings. In conclusion, few methodologically sound front-of-pack labeling studies are presently available. The highest methodological quality and the greatest public health relevance are achieved by measuring the health effects of front-of-pack labels using biomarkers in a longitudinal, randomized, controlled design in a real-life setting.
    Nutrition Reviews 12/2012; 70(12):709-20. DOI:10.1111/j.1753-4887.2012.00535.x · 5.54 Impact Factor


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