Why We Need A New Food Labeling System

  • Post category:Op-Eds

May 17, 2023. By Jeannie Salisbury.

2022-23 UNC IPE Schweitzer Fellow Jeannie Salisbury

I am writing to urge all fellow North Carolinians to reach out to their representative in Congress in support of the proposed congressional bill “The Food Labeling Modernization Act of 2021”.

The goal of this bill is to help consumers make better, healthier decisions on the food they purchase.  The bill directs the FDA to develop a standardized system for front of label requirements for food sold in the United States, which would include the following information:  calories, saturated fat, trans fat, sodium levels and added sugars.     Also, gluten would be clearly identified which is extremely important to people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance. 

Warning labels would be developed that incorporate easily understandable object such as stoplights, points or stars that would rank foods on their health.  Using the warning labels would enable consumers of all nutrition education levels to easily and quickly compare product offerings and make better choices.   This would have the ancillary benefit of  encouraging manufacturers to improve their products and make them healthier.  

According to the CDC,  approximately 42% of the people in the United States are obese. The CDC links obesity directly to heart disease, stroke, and Type 2 diabetes, all leading causes of premature death.  In the United States, health care expenditures related to obesity were over $173 billion in 2019.  We need to combat this problem from all sides and standardized front of product nutrition labels are an important tool in our arsenal to fight obesity.    

Most other countries in the world use a warning label  system that is standardized.   The United Kingdom, for example uses a traffic light with three colors to reflect low, medium and high levels of fat, sugar and sodium. Many countries in South America have a mandatory standardized front of the label system for nutrition that include simple ratings for the product based on thresholds for categories such as calories, sodium, sugar, and saturated fat as well as artificial sweeteners. In fact,  it was found that front of the label warning systems resulted in consumers being 3.6 times more likely to make a healthier food choice.  

Currently, I am a Schweitzer Fellow, working on a project with an Assertive Care Treatment team in North Carolina addressing food insecurity for people who have mental illness. In addition, I have worked for a number of years running a local branch of a food pantry in North Carolina. My work in these food related areas has helped me understand how difficult it is for people to make healthy decisions on their food, even when they are trying,  and how helpful this bill and the standardized system of labels would be to everyone of all income and education levels.  I strongly encourage everyone to reach out to their congressional representative and actively support this bill.

Jean Mitchell Salisbury

Masters of Public Health, UNC Chapel Hill, 2023 

2022-23 NC Schweitzer Fellow