On June 20, Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-06) held a press conference at Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences (SEBS) on the New Brunswick campus to call for more transparent food labels and better guidance for consumers.
“Consumers have a right to know what’s in the food they are buying,” said Pallone. “We’ve all struggled to navigate today’s opaque food labels and ‘healthy’ marketing claims during trips to the grocery store.”
In April, Pallone, the Ranking Member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, along with Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), introduced the Food Labeling Modernization Act, which would direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services to establish a single, standard front-of-package nutrition labeling system in a timely manner for all food products required to bear nutrition labeling.
The bill would also strengthen current law to address trends in marketing that confuse or mislead consumers when they are attempting to compare food products.
SEBS Executive Dean Laura Lawson welcomed Pallone to Rutgers while Distinguished Professor and extension specialist in food science Don Schaffner highlighted the Department of Food Science’s long history of working closely with the food industry in New Jersey and around the world to ensure a safe, nutritious and high-quality food supply.
“We applaud Congressman Pallone’s efforts to help Americans make more informed decisions about the foods that they eat, as well as his efforts to improve the safety of the food supply,” said Schaffner.
Mary Coogan, president and CEO of Advocates for Children in New Jersey (ACNJ), commended Congressman Pallone for introducing the bill, which will give parents and caregivers “the information they need to be their child’s best ally.”
“Mandatory nutrition labeling on the front of food packages will help parents easily identify foods that are high in sodium, added sugar, or saturated fats—nutrients that are linked to chronic disease,” said Coogan.
An estimated 13 percent of children aged 6 to 11 years and 14 percent of adolescents aged 12 to 19 years were overweight in 1999, percentages that were nearly double what they had been in 1980, explained Coogan.
“Unfortunately, today the percentage of children and youth who are obese is much higher,” said Coogan, who shared data from the 2023 Kids Count Data Report released June 14 by the Annie E. Casey Foundation that showed, “nationally, 33 percent of children between ages 10 – 17 are overweight or obese, i.e., children or teens with a Body Mass Index of or above the 85th percentile.”
According to Pallone, “in the United States, obesity and diet-related disease are responsible for hundreds of thousands of premature deaths each year as well as increased health care costs. However, food labeling requirements do not always provide families with the information they need to make healthy choices.”
He noted that “the majority of the food labeling provisions of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act have not been updated since 1990 and in some cases have not been changed since 1938. As a result, labels do not provide the information that today’s consumers need to evaluate and compare products in order to make healthy choices.”
Pallone also stated that “over the last few years, the Food and Drug Administration has updated some requirements for the Nutrition Facts label on packaged foods. The Food Labeling Modernization Act would build on that initial progress by ensuring consumers have access to easy-to-read information in order to make informed purchasing decisions.”