Two food industry groups recently announced that they’re developing a new front-of-package nutrition labeling system for food products. Naturally, that isn’t enough for the food cops. Last week, nutritionist and food blogger Marion Nestle blew her ear-splitting whistle on the food industry yet again.
Why in the world would Nestle have a problem with such food labels? According to her, the food industry “would much rather label their products with all the things that are good about them, like added vitamins, omega-3s, and fiber.” Is that a bad thing? Of course when it comes to other issues like, say, labeling genetically-modified fish, Nestle can be found uttering clichés like “The public wants the right to choose. The public should have the right to choose.” But apparently telling consumers how much Vitamin C is in something is too much information.
Nestle goes on to advocate for a traffic-light system like the one developed in Great Britain. This rule would coerce food manufacturers into putting traffic light images on every one of their packaged products. Green would indicate that a food was healthy, yellow would signal okay for occasional indulgences, and red would indicate that the product was on the food cops’ hit list.
The idea was so deeply preposterous that it was shot down in the UK, defeated by the European Union Parliament, and resulted in the evisceration of Britain’s Food Services Agency. (Traffic light labels are now used only voluntarily by some UK grocery stores.) The notion that the complexity of nutrition facts can be reduced to three colors was laughed out of the room by Europeans.
For example, a can of tuna fish contains a moderate amount of calories and cholesterol. It also contains omega-3 fatty acids that are invaluable for your heart and a host of other essential organs. But because the activists only want to look at what’s bad for you, they’d probably push to label tuna fish either yellow or red based on sketchy science, despite its well-known nutritional benefits.
But that’s the system preferred by Nestle. “If we have to have one system, I’m voting for traffic lights,” she declared last year. Even the similarly worry-minded Center for Science in the Public Interest and the White House Task Force on Obesity haven’t gone that far, but both have called for a simplification of nutritional labels.
Here’s an alternative proposal: mandated traffic lights on all nutrition nannies. Under this plan, every food activist in America would be color-labeled based on their level of hysteria. Needless to say, Marion Nestle would be our first red light.