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Food Labeling Modernization Act Introduced

By: Sydney Sheffield 

To combat the misleading claims used by food companies, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), and Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Ed Markey (D-MA) introduced the Food Labeling Modernization Act of 2021. The Act would update front-of-package food labeling requirements, require updates to the ingredient list on packaged foods, and apply consumer-friendly labeling requirements.

“We need a clear, truthful system of labels for food products that ensure consumers can make informed dietary choices without being confused or misled,” said Senator Markey.  “The Food Labeling Modernization Act will improve labeling standards, so all consumers have access to fair, honest, and easy to understand information about their food.”

Recently, food giants have faced many class-action lawsuits for misleading food labels. In 2020, there were more than 220 cases against the food and beverage industry, more than any year over the past decade. Among those filing lawsuits are advocates for animal welfare such as the Family Farm Action Alliance and the Animal Welfare Institute, claiming that misleading marketing terms such as “all-natural”, are ensuring “the continued mistreatment of millions of cows, pigs, and chickens raised by Big Agriculture while harming the livelihoods of small farmers committed to more humane animal husbandry.” 

“We don’t believe that companies should be able to profit from deceiving consumers about their practices,” Jay Shooster, a lawyer whose firm has filed several cases on behalf of advocacy groups told The New York Times. On the other side of the coin, there are lawsuits by the meat industry against fake, plant-based meat alternatives using the term meat to sell their products because it deliberately confuses consumers. A study by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) found that nearly 2/3 of responders thought plant-based alternatives contained real meat. 

The Food Labeling Modernization Act of 2021 is intended to help consumers quickly identify if a product is healthy. The bill suggests several rating systems, such as a traffic light icon or stars, one star identifying an unhealthy product, and five stars identifying a healthy product. The bill also requires further information regarding certain ingredients, such as any food item with the term “whole grain” on its packaging would have to clarify the actual percentage of whole-grain content. These requirements would be standardized on the food package to ensure easy access for consumers. 

“American consumers have a right to know what’s in the food they and their families eat, but that isn’t always easy with today’s opaque food labels and marketing claims,” Chairman Pallone said. “The Food Labeling Modernization Act will update our nation’s packaging requirements to provide clear nutritional information to consumers to help them make healthier and more informed purchasing decisions.”