Agriculture and Food:

Comments on Proposed Food-Labeling Regulations

CED-80-89: Published: Apr 21, 1980. Publicly Released: Apr 21, 1980.

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An analysis of food-labeling positions proposed by the Departments of Agriculture and Health, Education, and Welfare and the Federal Trade Commission was undertaken. The analysis focused on the agencies' intent to begin implementing new regulations and drafting new laws to correct the complex and sometimes duplicative and/or inconsistent regulations in effect. The agencies' method of correction is to develop an overall labeling strategy that would give consumers the information they want and need to make informed food choices. Moreover, the agencies expect their new labeling policies to be in full force within the next 2 years, and will implement the strategy in a piece-meal manner through a series of regulations.

GAO believes that: (1) the Federal agencies' proposed food-labeling regulations should not be implemented at this time because they could result in information being placed on food labels that is not needed, used, or understood by most consumers; (2) existing knowledge and resources need to be brought together so that agreements and tradeoffs necessary to formulate a national food information policy or strategy can be reached and assessed; and (3) one vehicle for formulating a national food policy would be a Presidential committee composed of members from Federal, State, and local governments, industry, consumer groups, trade associations, communication specialists, educators, researchers, and health professionals. Moreover, the committee should be responsible for: (1) establishing and updating a nutrition and food data bank; (2) targeting information to all segments of the public; (3) setting interim and long-term goals and time-frames for measuring accomplishments; and (4) measuring and market-testing alternative information approaches.

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