Do You Know What You are Eating?
Once upon a time in America, no one gave much thought to food labels. There was really no need – after all, people knew what they were eating. Traditionally, moms were at home cooking fresh meals every day with untainted meats, grains, and produce. Nutritional information was a nice sidebar, but it was not too important. Before the 1960s, simple whole foods made up most of the contents in a grocery shopping cart. Families enjoyed home-made meals together, instead of quick pre-packaged, over-processed, ready-made dishes. For most foods, nutritional labels weren’t necessary. The exceptions were special items marketed for consumers with dietary restrictions. Such data would include sugar or sodium content, and calorie count.
Today, things are much different.
Here Comes The Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
The dawning of the 1960s counterculture brought much change, including a big boom in the production of processed foods. As the decade progressed, dissatisfied homemakers were delaying starting families and challenging traditional roles. More women were entering the workforce and easy-to-prepare foods grew in popularity. Unfortunately, at this time, food manufacturers would commonly make false claims about the products they sold. Trusted brands lost long-standing loyal followers by misleading consumers and putting out confusing ad campaigns.
In 1969, the government took notice and the FDA responded by recommending the creation of a list of nutritional information to be posted on food labels. Buyers no longer had to shop blindly, they could make educated buying decisions.
The first regulation in 1973 legally obliged food manufacturers to actually deliver what they promise, or else they would be subjected to regulatory compliance and potential fines. It was mandatory that all nutrition claims on the packaging or in product marketing be factual.
Most Recent Food Label Changes
The National Academy of Sciences in the United States used nutrition data from the late 1960s to devise the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for each food nutrient. This was further broken down by age and gender. The RDA continued to be used until more advanced scientific findings replaced the antiquated data in 2016. The new information included the link between diet and common chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.
The Food Safety and Inspection Service joined the movement by developing similar nutrition labels for single-ingredient consumables, such as poultry and other meat. There was still no FDA jurisdiction in this food area.
The Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA)
The early 1970s are also known as a ‘pivot of change’ in history, the post-war era brought many scientific breakthroughs in health, diet, and nutrition. Improved health was a popular trend and American consumers were demanding clearly posted nutrition facts on food labels and manufacturers acted promptly.
The FDA painstakingly pondered potential ways to improve the current regulations on food labels. The government agency was unsure of how well it could legally enforce posted nutrition facts. Consumer health was also a big concern and how content and clear food labels may impact better buying decisions.
After many years of negotiations, Congress passed the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act in 1990. This groundbreaking regulation granted the FDA the power to control what is included on nutritional labels. This covers requirements for foods, nutrient and health claims, fish and produce.
When the final regulations were published by the FDA in 1993, mandatory nutrition labels were finally required for the first time ever.