Justice and Law Enforcement:

Informing the Public About Food--A Strategy Is Needed for Improving Communication

CED-82-12: Published: Jan 8, 1982. Publicly Released: Jan 8, 1982.

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Consumers need concise, clear food information as more food products come on the market and inflation drives food prices up. Food information, regulations, and programs have multiplied rapidly in the past decade. Some believe that the information resulting from these efforts is conflicting, confusing, and duplicative. GAO made a review to expand on its earlier suggestion that a cooperative undertaking was needed to develop a national food information strategy, which would include a system for performing research on foods and educating consumers.

The federal government has developed a wide array of regulations and programs to control food labels and to encourage and teach good food buying, storage, and preparation habits. GAO has identified over 125 federal food data-gathering and information dissemination programs. There has been a heightened awareness of food issues, a safer food supply, and more coordination among federal agencies with food information programs. However, lack of a national food information strategy has allowed programs and regulations to be developed piecemeal, so that they are sometimes inconsistent; based on inadequate data; and formulated without integrating the research, education, and communication components of the food information system. The United States could learn from steps which other nations have taken to improve their food information systems. Three federal agencies have proposed requiring that food labels contain certain information without proper assurance that consumers need or would use the information. In 1980, GAO suggested that the proposal should not be implemented but that an overall food information strategy be developed cooperatively by a committee of representatives from the government, industry, academia, and consumer groups. Food experts also feel that a consortium of key federal officials should be established to pool their expertise and develop a national plan that would define U.S. food information needs and communication methods, provide additional scientific information on controversial issues, and evaluate existing programs.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The current administration believes it is up to the individual to decide what food is nutritious.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture and Health and Human Services and the Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission should jointly develop and submit to concerned congressional committees and the President a strategy for improving the communication of food information to the public. The strategy should incorporate the views and ideas of the various food groups expressed in this report.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The current administration believes it is up to the individual to decide what food is nutritious.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture and Health and Human Services and the Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission should jointly develop and submit to concerned congressional committees and the President a strategy for improving the communication of food information to the public. The strategy should incorporate the views and ideas of the various food groups expressed in this report.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The current administration believes it is up to the individual to decide what food is nutritious.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture and Health and Human Services and the Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission should jointly develop and submit to concerned congressional committees and the President a strategy for improving the communication of food information to the public. The strategy should incorporate the views and ideas of the various food groups expressed in this report.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

 

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