The food cops at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) should take note: the leader of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) believes that nutrition labeling of packaged food in grocery stores — the model upon which CSPI would base mandatory restaurant menu labels — hasn’t helped to shrink Americans’ collective girth. Acting FDA chief Lester Crawford told attendees of the World Obesity Congress and Expo last week: “What we did in making nutrition labeling mandatory did not help obesity. In fact, some people would say it hurt.” Crawford also said that labels haven’t helped Americans lose weight: “The first thing we notice is this contradiction about the fact that we had mandatory nutrition labeling for ten years, and the situation got steadily worse during that time … Fifty percent of Americans now say that they never exercise.”
CSPI’s menu-labeling proposal is having an effect — not on obesity, but on lawmakers. California’s state Senate passed a menu labeling bill using CSPI’s “model language” word for word. CSPI has also shepherded similar legislation in several other states, the District of Columbia, and the United States Congress. CSPI insists that menu labeling is “an important strategy for reducing obesity.”
The truth is the only people likely to take advantage of menu labels are those who are already health conscious. As Crawford pointed out, the vast majority of people don’t use the nutrition labels on packaged foods:
You can certainly say that most people certainly don’t understand the food label, because only about 10 percent sedulously look at it … but they don’t fundamentally look at it. And it’s not because they can’t understand it, it’s because they don’t care to understand it.
Even CSPI director Michael Jacobson has admitted that mandatory menu labeling would have little effect on obesity. When one restaurant voluntarily decided to include nutritional information — the very goal CSPI seeks — Jacobson dismissed the likely results. According to TIME, “Jacobson insists that too many people will look past the calorie, fat, carb and fiber counts on the menu.” What’s needed instead, according to CSPI, are “fat taxes” and obesity lawsuits.