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Issues in Food Labeling | Nutrition label standards in US, UK and India

BY: Deepti Narayan | Category: Issues | Submitted: 2013-12-17 06:09:01
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Article Summary: "A small area seen on a food packet that has a wide range of data describing the values of nutrition that the food item provides is called a food label..."

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A small area seen on a food packet that has a wide range of data describing the values of nutrition that the food item provides is called a food label. Food labels have to provide the following mandatory data:

• Product name
• Total quantity of the food item
• Manufacturer's name along with the address
• Amount of calories
• The number of persons that can be served
• Fat content along with other nutrients
• The remaining ingredients put in to make the final product
• Expiry date
• Specific parameters for storing the food item

This type of data aids those persons who are planning to go on a diet or those who are making an effort to get the right kind and amount of required nutrients [1], [2], [3].


Year : Event
• Early 13th century: First law regulating food production, Assize of Bread by King of England
• 1862: Establishment of Department of Agriculture & Bureau of Chemistry
• 1906: Food and Drugs Act
• 1938: Federal Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act
• 1950: Oleomargarine Act
• 1958: Earliest list of food substances generally recognized as safe (GRAS) comes into circulation
• 1965: Fair Packaging & Labeling Act
• 1990: Nutrition Labeling & Education Act (NLEA)
• 2004: Food Allergy Labeling and Consumer Protection Act
• Sep 2008: NuVal (nutrition value) system- food items placed on a scale of 1 to 100; NuVal score being directly proportional to the nutritional value of food
• Oct 2008: Many companies promote the "Smart Choices" initiative- to make the process of providing front of package consumer information, a standardized one; suspension of the same in Oct 2009 [4]


Year Event
• 1898: Section 3A of the Livestock Importation Act
• 1954: Prevention of Food Adulteration Act
• 1977: Standards of Weights and Measures (Packaged Commodities) Rules
• 2006: Chapter IV, paragraph 23 of the Food Safety and Standards Act (FSSA) [5]


In the US-

Food labeling for ready-to-eat foods such as breads, cereals, drinks etc. is compulsory; for fish and raw food items such as vegetables & fruits, the process of food labeling is optional.

Innumerable numbers of Americans suffer from food allergies every year. The reactions can range from mild and minor to severe and life-threatening. Food allergies cannot be cured; allergens can only be avoided. Food Allergens Guidance Documents & Regulatory Information also exists. They contain suggestions for food labeling of gluten-free products, guidance for allergic substances, etc [6].

In the US, about 3 million persons suffer from celiac disease. The gluten constituents in the food items produce antibodies, destroying the small intestinal lining. Hence, they cannot take in the required nutrients and suffer from various deficiencies such as osteoporosis, intestinal cancers etc. According to the US FDA, food items can be listed as gluten-free if they have gluten amounts lower than 20 parts per million [7].

It is mandatory to list tans fats on the food labels in the US. Their intake increases the LDL cholesterol levels; thereby, a lot of people can suffer from coronary heart diseases. Trans fats labeling has been made mandatory from 1993 [8].

In the UK-

Here, the manufacturer has to put two labels on a ready-to-eat food product.

1. Front-of-pack labeling: The government would be introducing a set-up where it intends to combine colour coding and information regarding nutrition of the food item. A little above half the food items would only be covered as this set-up would be optional. Some of the companies that would be adhering to this method are Tesco, Waitrose, Premier Foods etc. Two companies that did not agree to this method are Coca-Cola and Cadbury- their view was that the Guideline Daily Amounts was a better method to be followed [9].

The front label would provide an overview of the product, quantity, expiry date and instructions for storing the food item [10].

2. Back-of-pack labeling: On the back label one would see data regarding nutrition of the food item, the various components that go into manufacturing the product along with their percentages, any additives if used, information regarding any allergens in the food item, contact details of the manufacturer, the country from where the food item is brought in, symbol to recycle the product packaging and bar coding [10].

In India-

The two extra points that have to be included on a food label according to the Indian regulations are:

1. Vegetarian/Non-Vegetarian food logo
2. Instructions for using the end-product

In January 2013, it became compulsory to label genetically-modified foods (GM) as such. Also, the Food Safety and Standards Regulations do not exclude wholesale food items from being adequately labeled [11].


Food labeling provides the consumers with the following advantages-

1. To get more knowledge about the food item constituents.

2. To find the quantity of every ingredient relative to each other.

3. To find out how much of the exact quantity of each component is present in the final food product.

4. To stay away from allergic components or additives that they do not wish to have.

5. To know the production parameters of particular food components.

6. To look at similar products according to their varying prices.

7. To extract data if some nutritional components have been inserted or deleted from the initial manufactured food item [2].


1. Increased importance has to be given to the section of "calories per serving" on food labels- the data has to be displayed in bigger fonts and in one or two lines only, for easy reading.

2. Listing "calories from fat" on the food label reduces the importance that the "total calories" should be getting.

3. The limits of the "serving size" have to be upgraded- nowadays people consume a lot more food than they did 30 to 40 years back. Hence, they should know their appropriate calorie intake. US FDA's calorie intake per serving size data is based on the Nationwide Food Consumption Surveys done in the 1970s and 80s.

4. People are misguided when the manufacturer tells that the total amount of calories on the food label is for the entire end-product- this information may be for only half of the food packet.

5. The concept of "fiber content" has to be changed- nowadays even the ice-cream manufacturers add the word "fiber" to their labels. Ice-creams contain "isolated fibers" such as inulin which do not have the capacity to reduce blood sugar or cholesterol levels at all [12].






5. Dr Ali J. India moves to tighten food labeling laws. Food Quality & Safety magazine. 2011






11. Ilanangai P. Food labeling laws in India. 2013

12. Center for Science in the Public Interest. Food Labeling Chaos: the case for reform.

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