New Food Labeling—A Disaster in the Making?

March 9, 2014 Updated: April 23, 2016

The new food labeling requirement seems at first glance to be a good idea, but is it really a disaster in the making? It is always important to know what you are eating. From the time of kings when there were food tasters who ate the king’s food to make sure it was not poisoned, we have known how important it is to be aware of the content of our food. In this day and age we are more and more aware that the fat, sugar, salt and calories in foods are slowly killing us. So it stands to reason a label that clearly states what and how much is in a food can only be a good idea, right? Yes, but maybe not. Hear me out.

First Reason it is a Disaster—the label has now arbitrarily changed the definition of a serving size. Before on a label it only gave you the calories for one serving of the food in the package. It was very sneaky because packages usually contained multiple servings. In order to know what you were actually eating you would have to multiply the number on the package to figure out what you were eating. So to have a new food label that lists the calories for what is actually in the package sounds like a good idea, but it is not because although the total calories will now be listed the size of the serving is being defined as the total quantity in the package. In some instances, like with cereal, the food labelers are actually going to increase the size of the serving. This now means people will see the bigger serving size on the side of a box and think that is the amount to measure for their breakfast. Bad idea.

Second Reason it is a Disaster—what has happened is that the food labeling committee has decided to create new serving sizes that no longer correlate with what is recommended by the USDA. All our serving sizes are now going to be super-sized.  Someone has decided to create serving sizes according to what we now eat, not what we should be eating for a healthy lifestyle.

Third Reason it is a Disaster—as we all know, we are geared to eat what is served or is in a package. This new labeling will only reinforce this tendency. As former hunters and gathers we are psychologically and physically set up to eat each meal as our last. Redefining our servings to the biggest size guarantees that is what we will be eating. We can’t help ourselves.

Fourth Reason it is a Disaster—studies have already shown that simply listing the calories in food does not alter our food choices. If we want that Big Mac, we are going to order and eat it.

Fifth Reason it is a Disaster—with this new food labeling it is going to be even harder to map to what a recommended serving size is when you want to serve up the right amount. Now we will be living in a world with two different systems of serving sizes. This can only help to undermine people’s efforts to eat right.

It seems to me the new food labeling has missed the point entirely. Sure, it is always good to know what you are eating but the real problem we have in the United States is knowing how much we should be eating. We haven’t a clue.

This may be too obvious, but instead of increasing serving size, why aren’t we mandating that packaging be right-sized so what is in it is a recommended serving size according to the USDA? Why do we want to increase serving sizes in a day and age when 73% of Americans are either over weight or obese? At the very least, the new labeling should still include the recommended serving size on the packaging. Why not? After all, if the new food labeling is all about full disclosure, why in the world would a key piece of information for people trying to eat right be excluded? Without it we have a disaster in the making.