Nutrition Labeling:

FDA and USDA Need a Coordinated Assessment of Food Label Accuracy

RCED-95-19: Published: Dec 29, 1994. Publicly Released: Jan 9, 1995.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) and Food Safety and Inspection Service's (FSIS) new nutrition labeling regulations, focusing on: (1) the effect of the new regulations on the food industry's development and reporting of nutrient values; (2) the enforcement efforts FDA and FSIS have taken to help ensure the accuracy of food nutrition labels; and (3) FDA and FSIS plans for evaluating and improving the effectiveness of their nutrition labeling policies and procedures.

GAO found that: (1) although FDA and FSIS regulations clearly specify the level of accuracy necessary for the nutrient values provided on the new labels, food companies have a great deal of flexibility in developing these nutrient values; (2) FDA and FSIS help ensure that the nutritional information on food labels is accurate by performing laboratory analyses, conducting visual reviews, and pursuing legal actions against companies that have products with violative labels; (3) FDA and FSIS enforcement efforts are hindered by the great number of nutrition labels that must be examined and limited resources; (4) FDA and FSIS plan to use the results of its testing and enforcement activities to monitor the food industry's response to the new nutrition labeling regulations; (5) FDA plans to evaluate the effectiveness of its labeling policies and procedures by conducting a periodic survey of food industry compliance; (6) resource constraints have prevented FSIS from statistically assessing the effectiveness of its labeling policies and procedures; and (7) the federal government will not be able to evaluate the effectiveness of its nutrition labeling program for all nutrition labels in the marketplace without a statistical assessment of FSIS label enforcement efforts.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In February 1996, FSIS awarded a contract to analyze the nutrition labels on 300 food products. The contractor's report was due in late summer 1996. While the contractor is using a methodology developed by FDA, there is no plan to coordinate FSIS and FDA efforts.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Health and Human Services should develop a coordinated evaluation strategy that will provide for an overall assessment of the accuracy of the nutrition information provided on all food labels.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In October 1994, FDA issued a report on analytical data from a statistically selected sample of 300 food product labels. While FSIS is using FDA's methodology in its food label analysis, there is no plan to coordinate FDA's and FSIS's efforts.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Health and Human Services should develop a coordinated evaluation strategy that will provide for an overall assessment of the accuracy of the nutrition information provided on all food labels.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

 

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