This blog post was written by Abe Cohn and Originally Appeared on the PieShell Blog
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is charged with a variety of duties, and chief among them is its responsibility to develop and enforce food-labeling regulations for food products. The two main pieces of legislation governing these regulations are The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) and the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act. Each Act covers, of course, different areas of governance but both set out to provide manufacturers/producers with a comprehensive set of answers to the perennially fundamental questions of the Who, What, Where, When and Why vis-à-vis food manufacturing and packaging laws.
One might very reasonably ask, why is there so much law surrounding what seems to be a very simple enterprise? A company develops a food item, creates an attractive package for the food item, and slaps on a label with a list of ingredients contained within the food item. What’s the big deal?
Trust, Trust, Trust
The FDA understands that the health and bodily integrity of the American consumer is a first-order concern of the Federal government. Simultaneously, the FDA recognizes the vast information gap between the manufacturer and consumer; simply, the manufacturer of a food product knows precisely what’s in the food product while the consumer remains entirely oblivious. While it would seem rather obvious that a company through market-pressures may need to disclose some details about a given food product to consumers (who among us would purchase a bottle of neon-green Mountain Dew without at least some ingredient details?), the degree to which we can rely on honor-bound corporations to disclose an ingredient list with full transparency is dubious at best. Put another way, would it be wise to merely trust that profit-seeking companies will not deceive or mislead consumers if such deceit would generate more capital? The government says (along with the more cynical readers of this article), absolutely not.
The purpose of these existing laws, then, is to put into place a regulatory system, which clearly delineates the scope of a corporation’s duty to disclose. After reading a Mountain Dew bottle’s ingredient list, a consumer may very well decide that its consumption would be grotesque at best but nevertheless, the consumer is equipped with the proper information to make that decision and as the brilliant poet Robert Frost has quipped, that has made all the difference.
Common Sense in Food Labeling
A brief examination of the FDA’s Food Labeling Guide will quickly assure the reader of the immensity in scope and size of the idiosyncrasies of food labeling law. Attempting to memorize all of these laws or even read through them would be an overwhelming exercise in futility. Instead, it would be far more helpful to approach food-labeling law compliance from the perspective of principle, rather than specific regulation mandates. This article will be the first among many future posts covering the nuances of food-labeling law and as such, will begin the analysis by strictly considering this principled approach to food-label compliance law.
The Correct Answers Require the Correct Questions
As the reader will surely recall from earlier in this article, the FDA is centrally concerned with consumer consent through sufficient manufacturer disclosure. The FDA doesn’t care whether or not you buy a food product, as long as you know what it is that you’re buying. Therefore, manufacturers seeking to achieve compliance in food labeling law should begin by asking the following questions;
(a.) Does the label accurately depict the nature of the ingredients contained within the product? (b.) Does the label fully depict the nature of the ingredients contained within the product? (c.) Does the label omit items that would otherwise depict the nature of the ingredients contained within the product? (d.)Does the label clearly depict the nature of the ingredients contained within the product? (e.)Does the label depict for easy understanding the nature of the ingredients contained within the product?
Clearly, these questions, if answered in the affirmative (with the exception of question “c.”) indicate that the manufacturer has done a very good job communicating to the consumer what exactly it is that he/she is buying and thus satisfies the FDA’s mandate of sufficient disclosure.
In the next post, we’ll go through specific provisions of food-labeling law and see how these meta-questions enable intuitive compliance with the law in addition to considering less intuitive but still highly important regulatory measures.
Have questions? We want to know.