Opinion: Bite the hand that feeds

Rachel Godin is a junior journalism major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected]

Rachel Godin

If you were on the fence about big business’s ethics before, its uproar about the positive new nutrition label — thanks to the “Let’s Move” initiative spearheaded by Michelle Obama — will change your mind. Writer and public health lawyer Michele Simon said, “Faced with the prospect of an updated nutrition facts label that conveys more realistic information more clearly, the food industry is attempting to spin the label as outdated and no longer necessary.”

Last week, the FDA announced a set of much-needed improvements on the nutrition labels that grace the backside packaging of American store-bought food. The changes were a long time coming — the last time the nutrition label was altered was 20 years ago. The changes the FDA is making are meant to most accurately represent the foods by including a more “true-to-life” take on average portion sizes people eat. For example, rather than a 20-ounce bottle of Mountain Dew being separated into two portion sizes on the label, a bottle will represent just one serving. “By law, serving sizes must be based on what people actually eat, not on what they ‘should’ be eating,” the agency explained.

Other changes to the label would include larger text size of calories per serving, so much that the label would be easier to read for the visually impaired. The new label also draws attention off fat by removing the term “calories from fat.” Many professionals have noted that this term was applied during the ’80s when the popular fad was to limit fat from one’s diet. Many also agree that fat is not as important as the ingredient that Michelle Obama has narrowed in on and that began this uproar with the food industry: sugar.

Last week, the World Health Organization drafted guidelines that encouraged people to consume fewer than 5 percent of their daily calorie intake from sugars. At an average body weight, that’s about 25 grams of sugar per day. So there’s two ways to look at this: Either the WHO is making it really hard on consumers to be “regulation” healthy, or the food companies are making it hard on consumers to be healthy by producing foods that have ungodly amounts of chemicals and sugars in them. Remember that seemingly innocent 20-ounce bottle of Mountain Dew? Well, it has 77 grams of sugar. It’s up to you to decide which organization has your best interest in mind, but sadly, it’s probably not the people feeding you.

Food companies have accumulated an incredible consumer following, wealth and success by selling us unhealthy products and making it harder for us to understand what we’re buying.  

They have spent billions of dollars on front-of-packing tactics that allow food companies to cherry-pick pieces of nutritional information to better mark unhealthy products. As many as 65 percent of consumers read the nutrition labels, so it is unfair to say that these new FDA regulations are placing unnecessary burdens on the food industry. Have they forgotten what a burden obesity, hypoglycemia and diabetes are on consumers?

Michelle Obama said it best at the label unveiling last month: “We need you not to just tweak around the edges but entirely rethink the products you are offering, the information that you provide about these products, and how you market those products to our children.”

According to Politico, the FDA estimates the nutrition facts overhaul alone will cost the industry about $2 billion — a small price to pay, when good health is priceless. If there is not 100 percent transparency in the food business there is a serious problem with American corporations limiting our knowledge, and in doing so, our freedom to live healthy lives. The very ethics of the food industry’s big business is being tested by this new label — not just its ingredients.