National Consumers League releases its Top Food and Nutrition Policy Priorities for 2022

July 20, 2022

Media contact: National Consumers League – Katie Brown, katie@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC – At a time of significant change in the food industry, the National Consumers League (NCL) today released a food policy agenda to improve food safety, reduce sodium in the diet, achieve better portion control, increase transparency in food and beverage labeling, and promote a more sustainable food system. Additionally, NCL is calling for a national strategy to ensure there will be an ample supply of safe infant formula products in the US along with aggressive regulatory oversight.

“Currently, over 335 million people live in the US, and all are consumers who deserve to be represented in the regulation of the foods and beverages they consume and serve to their families,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL’s Executive Director. “Especially now when technology is changing food production, food safety protocols, and the composition of novel and reformulated foods and beverages, NCL will speak for consumers on strengthening the food safety system, filling the gaps in food labeling, alleviating food insecurity, and reducing food waste.”

Addressing serious food safety lapses and areas where regulation has not caught up to changes in food production, manufacturing, and market trends, NCL’s agenda concentrates on 11 priorities where education and changes in public policy will have a direct and positive impact on the American public:

1. Strengthen the Food Safety System

As the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) moves forward with its New Era of Smarter Food Safety Blueprint, NCL will press FDA to finalize its Food Traceability Proposed Rule, enabling rapid traceback to the source of a contaminated food. Similarly, NCL will stress the need for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to modernize poultry safety rules and update food safety rules, such as expanded pathogen testing in meat and poultry products and updated safe handling instructions label for these products.

2. Ensure the Safety and Availability of Infant Formula

The critical shortage of infant formula in the U.S. requires a national strategy to ensure there will be an ample supply of safe infant formula products in the US along with aggressive regulatory oversight of the safety protocols at U.S. manufacturing facilities. NCL will also advocate for policies that increase the number of companies manufacturing infant formula, and changes in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program that allow for more flexibility in the range of infant formula products available through WIC.

3. Make Alcohol Facts Labeling Mandatory

Since 2003, NCL and the Center for Science in the Public Interest have taken the lead in pressing the federal agency that regulates most alcoholic beverages – the Treasury Department’s Bureau of Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) – to issue rules requiring an easy-to-read, standardized “Alcohol Facts” label on all beer, wine and distilled spirits products. Because this

labeling now appears on hard ciders, wine coolers, certain beers and other products regulated by the FDA, NCL, CSPI and the public health community are stepping up the fight to make mandatory alcohol labeling a reality.

4. Reduce Excess Sodium in the Diet

Because Americans on average consume 50 percent more sodium per day than is recommended, NCL will continue to raise awareness of the goal set by FDA to lower sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day and encourage consumers to use the Nutrition Facts label to choose products with less sodium, reduced sodium or no sodium added.

5. Require Labeling of Caffeine Content

While FDA considers 400 mg of caffeine per day as the amount not generally associated with dangerous side effects, the agency only requires food labels to disclose whether there is added caffeine in the food or beverage, not the total amount. Therefore, NCL is calling for new policy requiring all products containing caffeine to list the amount of caffeine per serving and per container.

6. Ensure Transparency in the Labeling of Plant-Based Meat Alternatives

In June 2022, NCL released a new report, Education and Transparency in Labeling Plant-Based Meat Alternatives: A Consumer-Focused Agenda to Improve Understanding and Decision-Making of Plant-Based Meats, which lays out seven priorities for regulatory action, including the requirement that labels on PBMAs are standardized and clarify the protein source and that nutrition/health claims for these products undergo FDA review and are supported by available scientific evidence. 

7. Improve the Labeling of Alternative Sweeteners

Although NCL applauds FDA’s decision to include “Added Sugars” on the recently updated Nutrition Facts Label, the organization supports a Citizen Petition to ensure transparent labeling of substitute sweeteners and is urging FDA to stop misleading claims, such as “No Added Sugars” and “Zero Sugar,” that imply the product is healthier than the original without disclosing that the sugar reduction resulted from reformulating with artificial substances and sugar alcohols. 

8. Modernize Food Standards of Identity

Because many “standards of identity” – recipes for what a food product must contain and how it is manufactured – are now 75 and even 80 years old and out of date, NCL supports FDA’s action plan to modernize food standards of identity. However, NCL urges FDA to focus on several food products where updating SOIs will lead to healthier offerings, such as olive oil, Greek yogurt, and canned tuna.

9. Improve Federal Nutrition Education and Food Labeling Policies by Elevating the Role of Portion Control and Balanced Food Choices, Revising the Definition of “Healthy,” and Developing Uniform Front of Pack Nutrition Rating Symbols

NCL is implementing a three-phased strategy to improve nutrition education and food labeling policies, which entails: 1) education and advocacy that emphasizes portion control and ensures consumers know the recommended daily intake of calories is 2,000 per day, 2) furthering FDA’s efforts to define the term “heathy” on food labels by addressing if and how added sugar content is calculated; and 3) encouraging FDA to adopt a “Traffic Light” labeling system to depict “healthy” foods on the front of the package.

10. Increase Funding and Access to Federal Nutrition Programs

NCL’s advocacy to enhance the Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program (SNAP) during the COVID-19 pandemic helped to increase access to healthy food to people in need. Now, NCL is working with partners to broaden the public health impact of SNAP by reducing the eligibility requirements, strengthening the nutritional goal for SNAP and providing incentives for healthier foods sold in retail establishments.

11. Reduce the Amount of Food Waste

Because about 90 billion pounds of food goes uneaten every year in the US, NCL is working to help the nation meet the goal of reducing food waste by 50 percent by 2030. As such, we will continue working with USDA, FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to raise awareness of food loss and waste and inform consumers of how they can reduce food waste in their homes.

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About the National Consumers League (NCL) 

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

A New Patient-Centered Action Agenda calls for people with obesity to have the same rights and access to care as people with other chronic diseases

July 7, 2022

Media contact: National Consumers League – Katie Brown, katie@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC— The National Consumers League (NCL) today released A New Patient-Centered Obesity Action Agenda: Changing the Trajectory of Obesity Through Patient Empowerment, Health Professional Intervention and Supportive Government Policies, a new report with a blueprint to change how Americans think about obesity, empower people with obesity to get the best care, and afford those with obesity the same access to care as adults with other serious chronic diseases.

Issued as a call to action, the report was prepared in consultation with a panel of leading obesity specialists as a roadmap for overcoming one of the difficult challenges affecting US adults now living with obesity: despite significant advances in the understanding and treatment of obesity, only 10 percent of people with obesity get help from medical professionals,[1] meaning the disease remains largely undiagnosed and undertreated. Accordingly, only 30 million[2] of the estimated 108 million adults living with obesity[3] have been diagnosed with the disease and only around 2 percent of those eligible for anti-obesity medications have been prescribed these drugs.[4]

The consequences of undertreatment affect virtually every aspect of the healthcare system. Obesity not only has a negative impact on almost every aspect of health and well-being, but it worsens the outcomes of over 230 obesity-related chronic diseases, from type 2 diabetes and heart disease to some forms of cancer.[5] Accordingly, obesity is responsible for an approximately 300,000 premature deaths each year[6] deaths and costs the U.S. economy an estimated $1.72 trillion annually in direct and indirect costs.[7]

“Although obesity is one of today’s most visible public health problems, it is often ignored and discounted as a serious disease, resulting in a health crisis that has only worsened with time,” said
Sally Greenberg, NCL’s Executive Director. “This report focuses attention on the numerous public perception, provider and policy-related factors that preclude Americans with overweight and obesity from getting effective treatment and must be addressed if obesity outcomes are to improve in the US.”

To change the trajectory of the obesity epidemic, the report calls for a national mobilization to overcome the “human” factors– incorrect beliefs about the cause and treatment of obesity, prejudice towards people due to their size, lack of training for health providers, access barriers, and outdated government policies – that continue to prevent Americans from seeking and obtaining obesity care. Towards this end, NCL’s patient-centered action agenda identifies nine priorities for action:

  1. Redefine Obesity for the American Public as a Treatable Chronic Disease

Although the American Medical Association classifies obesity as a chronic disease requiring treatment, three-quarters of Americans believe obesity results from a lack of willpower. Thus, redefining obesity as a treatable chronic condition will provide a new context for health providers and patients to have a positive discussion about weight, leading to more people getting diagnosed and treated.

  1. Adopt Patient-First Language for Obesity

Unlike other chronic diseases where health professionals use people-first language that puts a person before a diagnosis, practitioners routinely use terms to describe obesity that can be off-putting and demoralizing. To change this situation, the National Consumers supports the agenda of the People-First Initiative launched by the Obesity Action Coalition, which advocates for widespread adoption of people-first language by practitioners in all healthcare settings.

  1. Make Combatting Weight Stigma a National Priority

Studies show that 40 percent of healthcare professionals –physicians, nurses, dietitians, psychologists and medical students – admit to having negative reactions based on a person’s size.[8]Addressing this pervasive problem requires a unified national initiative that makes the impact of weight stigma “real” for clinicians and the public and disseminates the latest information to health providers on strategies to reduce weight stigma.

  1. Elevate the Need for Physician Training in Obesity

A recent study of 40 US medical schools finds that 30 percent of these institutions provide little or no education in nutrition and obesity interventions while one third of schools reported no obesity education programs in place.[9] These findings underscore the urgency for US medical schools to change their priorities and develop curricula that comprehensively addresses the disease of obesity.

  1. Establish Excess Weight as a Vital Sign

Besides body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate and respiration, health providers routinely measure height and weight at each visit. Thus, if healthcare professionals were to calculate and provide patients with their Body Mass Index (BMI) at the time of the office visit, practitioners could have a tool to discuss excess weight when patients are most receptive to discussing their health status.  It is recognized that BMI is a crude measure and not the sole predictor of obesity but when combined with patient-friendly information that explains the level of weight and options for treatment, this interaction could initiate a positive, respectful conversation about obesity care.

  1. Provide the Tools for a Doctor-Patient Dialogue on Excess Weight

A major reason primary care providers (PCPs) are reluctant to provide obesity counseling is the lack of informational tools to have conversations with patients about their weight status and care options. Therefore, a unified effort to make available to PCPs evidence-based, patient-friendly content on obesity will facilitate a better dialogue between clinicians and patients and promote shared decision-making.

  1. Establish Coverage of Obesity as a Standard Benefit Across Insurers and Health Plans

Although employers and insurers are starting to cover treatment options for obesity in employee benefit packages, too many people continue to be denied coverage or face access barriers, such as step therapy and prior authorization, that delay treatment. Improving obesity outcomes therefore requires supporting legislative efforts, like the “Safe Step Act” that would require group health plans to provide an exception process for step-therapy protocols. It also necessitates collaboration among payers, providers, policymakers, and advocates to establish a standard, affordable benefit for the prevention and treatment of obesity that applies across plan types and payers.

  1. End Outdated Medicare Rules That Exclude Coverage for Necessary Obesity Care

Today, the many millions of Americans enrolled in the Medicare program are denied safe and effective obesity treatment due to outdated Medicare Part D rules that exclude coverage for FDA-approved obesity drugs and Medicare Part B policies that places undue restrictions on intensive behavioral therapy by allowing only primary care providers to deliver IBT and severely restricting the physical locations where this care can occur. Congress has the power to change this situation, which is why NCL has joined with the obesity, public health and nutrition communities is pressing for swift passage of the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act (TROA). The proposed legislation would expand Medicare coverage to allow access to IBT from a diverse range of healthcare providers while ending the exclusion for new anti-obesity medications that are improving the standard of care for adult Americans with obesity.

  1. Create a Patients’ Bill of Rights for People with Obesity

For too long, people with obesity have been stigmatized, discriminated against, and have faced significant hurdles and burdensome requirements to receive care. Changing this situation will require giving people with obesity the knowledge, skills and confidence to be advocates for their best obesity care. Therefore, NCL’s patient-centered obesity action agenda calls for the creation of a Patients’ Bill of Rights for People with Obesity based on the recognition that obesity is a treatable disease and everyone with obesity deserves the same level of attention and care as those with other chronic conditions.

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About the Report

To prepare the report, NCL partnered with the Obesity Care Advocacy Network (OCAN) to host a roundtable discussion in December 2021where public health specialists, leading professional societies, the minority health field and the obesity policy community assessed the state of the science on obesity today, the scope and cost of the disease in the US and the major barriers impeding quality obesity care with special attention to the “human” obstacles that keep people with obesity from seeking or obtaining treatment. Additionally, NCL conducted a literature review to gather additional insights, especially regarding how to change how people with obesity see themselves, so they become empowered to advocate for their care as patients with a chronic disease. Based on this assessment, NCL drafted the report, which was vetted by experts participating in the roundtable, and developed the policy recommendations included in the Patient-Centered Obesity Action Agenda.

 

About the National Consumers League (NCL) 

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

 

[1] Stokes A, et al. Prevalence and Determinants of Engagement with Obesity Care in the United States. Obesity. Vol. 26, Issue 5; May 2018, 814-818

[2] PharMetrics-Ambulatory EMR database, 2018. Novo Nordisk Inc.

[3] Hales CM,, et al. Prevalence of Obesity and Severe Obesity Among Adults: United States, 2017-2018. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. NCHS Data Brief. No. 360. February 2020.

[4] PharMetrics-Ambulatory EMR database, 2018. Novo Nordisk Inc.

[5] Obesity Care Advocacy Network. Fact Sheet: Obesity Care Beyond Weight Loss

[6] Allison DB, et al. Annual deaths attributable to obesity in the United States JAMA 1999Oct 27 282(16)1530–8.

[7] Milken Institute (October 2018), “America’s Obesity Crisis: The Health and Economic Costs of Excess Weight.”

[8] Fruh SM, et al. Obesity Stigma and Bias. J Nurse Pract. 2016 Jul-Aug; 12(7): 425–432.

[9] Butch WS, et al. Low priority of obesity education leads to lack of medical student’ preparedness to effectively treat patients with obesity; results from the U.S. medical school obesity education benchmark study. BMC Med Educ 20, 23 (2020)

Consumers need transparency in labeling of plant-based meat alternatives

Agenda-Setting Report Identifies Seven Priorities for Regulatory Action

June 9, 2022

Media contact: National Consumers League – Katie Brown, katie@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC – As more plant-based meat alternatives (PBMAs) that closely mimic the look, taste, and cooking properties of traditional meat products enter the U.S. market almost daily, the National Consumers League (NCL) today released a report with seven priorities for regulatory action to ensure that labels of so-called “meatless meats” readily identify the protein source and inform consumers of the nutritional composition of each PBMA product.

Issued as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is developing draft guidance for food manufacturers on the labeling of plant-based milks and alternatives to animal-derived foods,
the report underscores the importance of consumer-focused labeling to sustain the growth of the plant-based meats category, which has been fueled by consumer optimism. Findings were informed by an expert panel meeting held in 2021 that explored a standard of identity for PBMAs and based on an assessment of the PBMA marketplace which NCL conducted in 2022 to identify action steps that will significantly impact public awareness and understanding of PBMAs and can be readily implemented.

Providing up-to-date information on the issues affecting the labeling of plant-based meat alternatives, the report – Education and Transparency in Labeling Plant-Based Meat Alternatives: A Consumer-Focused Agenda to Improve Understanding and Decision-Making of Plant-Based Meats –documents promising projections for PBMA sales in the U.S. and globally. Recent polling shows that two-thirds of Americans (65 percent) consumed plant-based meat alternatives in 2021, and two in five (42 percent) ate PBMAs at least weekly.[1] Due to consumer demand, the plant-based meat category delivered $1.4 billion in sales in the U.S. in 2021 – up from $962 million in 2019 [2] – and a Bloomberg Intelligence report projects a 500 percent increase in global sales of plant-based foods by 2030[3]. Moreover, a recent market analysis predicts a growth rate of almost 20 percent globally for plant-based meats between 2021 and 2026 if consumer interest in PBMAs continues to grow.[4]

Yet, the NCL report points to marketplace challenges for plant-based meat substitutes. Currently, many brands define PBMAs differently and there is a lack of clarity about how to use traditional meat, dairy, and egg terminology on product labels. Additionally, only half of Americans were “very” or “somewhat” familiar with PBMAs in 2020 and 30 percent had no knowledge, according to a Gallup survey.[5] This lack of understanding is concerning because new plant-based meats are unique in their formulations and processing techniques– meaning products can differ in calories, saturated fat, sodium content, and levels of protein, fiber, vitamin B12, zinc, iron, and other nutrients. Plant-based meats may also contain a food allergen depending on the source of the plant proteins in the product.

[1] International Food Information Council. Consumption Trends, Preferred Names and Perceptions of Plant-Based Meat Alternatives. November 3, 2021

[2] Good Food Institute. US retail market data for the plant-based industry.

[3] Fortune. Plant-based food sales are expected to increase fivefold by 2030. August 11, 2021

[4] ResearchandMarket.com. Plant-Based Meat Market-Global Industry Analysis (2018-2020) & Growth Trends and Market Forecast (2021-2026). January 11, 2022

[5] Gallup. Four in Ten Americans Have Eaten Plant-Based Meats. January 28, 2020

 

“Plant-based meat alternatives are a popular and valued part of our food supply,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL’s Executive Director. “This is why the public needs regulatory policies that ensure the labels on these products are accurate, complete, and provide the qualifiers necessary for consumers to understand what they are purchasing.”

As the agency that regulates plant-based foods in the U.S., FDA shares this viewpoint and has sought information on a range of issues to issue draft guidance on the labeling of plant-based foods. Therefore, NCL prepared the report to articulate the consumer’s voice on PBMA labeling and lay out a blueprint for FDA and the food industry to ensure the information needs of the public are addressed. Specifically, the report identifies seven priorities for labeling, naming, and marketing plant-based meats alternatives that are in the best interest of consumers:

  1. Establish a definition for “plant-based meat alternatives” that will unite all stakeholders. Because brands define the term “plant-based” differently, FDA guidance should define what constitutes a “plant-based meat alternative” to promote consistency in labeling across the category.
  2. Ensure brand names are not deceptive. NCL’s position is it is a deceptive practice to use brand names for PBMAs that suggest a product contains meat, seafood, or eggs when none is present. Even when the label states the product contains no meat or eggs, consumers are influenced by the brand name, especially if packaging and promotional content feature pictures and iconography of animals or the type of meat.
  3. Require that labels on PBMAs are standardized and clarify the protein source. For labels of PBMAs to be transparent, the naming and labeling of PBMAs must be uniform and consistent and ensure that consumers can readily identify the protein source. Accordingly, FDA should require that all labels and advertisements for PBMAs must:
  • Use a common name that links the protein source and the form, such as “soy burger.”
  • Make clear that the product contains some animal protein in addition to plant-based proteins like soy. Qualifying terms can include “plant-based” and “made from plants.”
  • Make clear when the PBMA contains no meat. These terms can include vegan,” “meatless,” “vegetarian,” “veggie,” and “veggie-based” as well as “plant-based” and “made from plants.”
  • Place the phrase “contains no meat,” “contains no poultry,” or “contains no eggs” on the principal display panel of vegan PBMAs near the common name and in letters at least the same size and prominence as shown in the product’s common name.
  • Not use pictures, icons, or vignettes on the packaging, in marketing materials or in advertising that suggests nutrition superiority or that the product is the same as the comparable meat product.
  1. Regulate health/nutrition claims for PBMAs. Consistent with how FDA regulates the health claims allowed on traditional food products, FDA guidance must make clear that nutrition/health claims must undergo agency review and there must be significant scientific agreement that the claim is supported by available scientific evidence.
  2. Ensure website, social media, and advertising content for PBMAs conforms to what is on the product label. The guidance must make clear that FDA considers websites and social media to be an extension of the product label, meaning the claims and information that PBMA manufacturers put online must conform what FDA allows on the label.
  3. Address the nutritional composition of the PBMAs in FDA guidance. In Canada, proposed guidelines for plant-based protein foods would include nutritionally required amounts of vitamins and mineral nutrients that must be added to the PBMA product and a minimum limit of total protein content, among other requirements. While NCL supports this approach, FDA should at least recommend levels of key vitamins and nutrients in its guidance.
  4. Educate consumers about the nutritional composition of plant-based protein alternatives. It is in the public interest for FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture – along with nutrition societies – to conduct education programs that explain the nutritional composition of plant-based protein food products. This will allow consumers to make informed decisions based on science-based information.

About the Report

To prepare the report, NCL built on the deliberations of an online expert panel meeting – Meeting Consumers’ Needs for Modernizing Food Standards of Identity: General Principles for Naming and Labeling Plant-Based Meat Alternatives – co-hosted by NCL and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) in November 2021. Exploring whether new standards of identity (SOI) for PBMAs could lead to better labeling of these meat substitutes, the meeting started with a review of the U.S. market for PBMAs and featured breakout sessions where regulatory specialists, market researchers, consumer advocates and food industry leaders debated the need for a standard of identity for PBMAs and discussed consumers’ needs for education and labeling of PBMAs.

The November 2021 meeting produced consensus that there is not enough evidence to support a standard of identity for PBMAs and in fact, that a SOI could hamper innovation within this new category of plant-based foods. Yet, the meeting generated important insights on the need for consumer education about plant-based meats, a common nomenclature for describing PBMAs, and transparency in labeling so consumers will know the composition of the products they buy. Thus, when FDA announced plans to issue draft guidance on PBMAs in 2022, NCL used the deliberations from the November 2021 meeting as the foundation for developing recommendations for how FDA can ensure labels of PBMA products meet consumers’ needs. The final step was a literature review NCL conducted in March and April 2022 to add marketplace data on PBMAs and apply lessons learned from consumer research, voluntary labeling initiatives, legislation passed in different states label PBMAs, and labeling rules for PBMAs proposed or instituted in other countries.

Read the report here.

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About the National Consumers League (NCL) 

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

 

Nancy Glick

Consumers need accurate product names and labeling of plant-based meat products

Nancy GlickBy Nancy Glick, Director of Food and Nutrition Policy

With mounting information that plant-based diets are generally better for people’s health and the environment, many consumers are giving “meatless meats” a try.

About two-thirds of Americans consumed “plant-based meat alternatives” – or PBMAs – in the past year, with 20 percent eating them at least weekly, according to an August 2021 survey from the International Food Information Council (IFIC).[1] As a result, current estimates put the market for PBMAs at $1.4 billion – up from $962 million in 2019[2] –and a Bloomberg Intelligence Report predicts a 500 percent increase in global sales of plant-based foods globally by 2030.[3]

It is easy to understand consumers’ excitement about meatless products that closely resemble the look, feel and taste of burgers, sausages, deli meat and other products made from beef, pork, chicken, eggs and seafood. Polling shows consumers’ top reason for buying these products is the perceived healthfulness of PBMAs. The most sought-after benefits consumers cite are heart health and a good source of high quality and complete protein.

Yet, the reality is that plant-based meat products vary in their formulations, nutritional content and can be high in saturated fat and sodium. These products are often packaged in the same way as their animal protein counterparts and routinely sold next to the meat section in supermarkets. Thus, consumers need clarity in labeling to ensure product names, descriptions and packaging are not misleading and consumers have the qualifying terms to make informed decisions.

As the agency that regulates plant-based foods in the US, the Food and Drug Administration shares this viewpoint. Later this year, FDA will issue draft guidance on the labeling of plant-based milks and plant-based alternatives to “animal-derived foods” (meats) under the umbrella of the agency’s Nutrition Innovation Strategy. The strategy addresses the need for FDA to modernize its regulatory approach for new categories of foods, like PBMAs, developed through the latest technologies.

In developing its draft labeling guidance, FDA has sought information on a range of issues related to labeling, including whether consumers understand terms like “milk” when used in the name of plant-based alternatives and are aware of the nutritional differences between traditional meat and dairy products and their plant-based substitutes. In response, the agency has received thousands of comments from industry groups, manufacturers, academic institutions and professional societies offering their viewpoints. However, the National Consumers League contends that the consumer’s voice must be articulated and heard. Unless the information needs of consumers are clearly defined, FDA’s goal of labeling for transparency and clarity will not be realized.

To provide the consumer perspective, especially regarding decisions about plant-based meat alternatives, in November 2021 NCL and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) convened a panel of experts to assess consumers’ needs for accurate naming, labeling and claims on the package of PBMAs. Comprising regulatory specialists, market researchers, consumer advocates and food industry leaders, the panel also addressed how some key principles laid out in FDA’s Nutrition Innovation Strategy – a common nomenclature, accurate naming and labeling, and elements that assure honesty and fair dealing — can be applied to improve consumer understanding, perception, and decision-making of PBMA products.

In the near future, NCL will issue a full report of the findings of the expert panel and the implications for consumer education efforts and public policy. However, the need to articulate the consumer perspective on labeling PBMAs shouldn’t wait. Therefore, NCL has translated the consensus from the expert panel into a blueprint for FDA and the food industry.

The following are the seven priorities for labeling, naming and marketing plant-based meats alternatives that are in the best interest of consumers:

  1. Establish a definition for the category of “plant-based meat alternatives” that will unite all stakeholders
    Today, many brands, companies and organizations define the term “plant-based” differently and there is not collective agreement on definition of a “meat alternative.” Since these terms represent an entire class of food products, FDA guidance should define what constitutes a “plant-based meat alternative” to promote consistency in labeling across the category.
  2. Ensure brand names are not deceptive
    NCL’s position is it is a deceptive practice to use brand names for PBMAs that suggest a product contains meat, seafood or eggs when none is present or is better/healthier than the traditional animal protein product. Even when the label states the product contains no meat or eggs, consumers are influenced by the brand name, especially if the packaging and content on the website, social media platforms and in ads shows pictures and iconography of animals or the type of meat. 
  3. Require that labels on PBMAs are standardized and clarify the protein source

For labels of PBMAs to be transparent, the naming and labeling of PBMAs must be uniform and consistent and ensure that consumers can readily identify the protein source. Accordingly, FDA should require that all labels and advertisements for PBMAs must:

  • Use a common name that links the protein source and the form, such as “soy burger.”
  • Make clear that the product contains some animal protein in addition to plant-based proteins like soy. Qualifying terms can include “plant-based” and “made from plants.”
  • Make clear when the PBMA contains no meat. These terms can include vegan,” “meatless,” “vegetarian,” “veggie,” and “veggie-based” as well as “plant-based” and “made from plants.”
  • Place the phrase “contains no meat,” “contains no poultry,” or “contains no eggs” on the principal display panel of vegan PBMAs near the common name and in letters at least the same size and prominence as shown in the product’s common name.
  • Not use pictures, icons or vignettes on the packaging, in marketing materials or in advertising that suggests nutrition superiority or that the product is the same as the comparable meat product.
  1. Regulate health/nutrition claims for PBMAs
    Consistent with how FDA regulates the health claims allowed on traditional food products, FDA must make clear in its guidance that nutrition/health claims must undergo review by the FDA through a petition process and there must be significant scientific agreement that the claim is supported by available scientific evidence.
  2. Ensure website, social media, and advertising content for PBMAs conforms to what is on the product label

The guidance must make clear that FDA considers websites and social media to be an extension of the product label, meaning the claims and information that PBMA manufacturers put online must conform what FDA allows on the label.

  1. Address the nutritional composition of the PBMAs in FDA guidance
    In Canada, regulation of PBMAs includes nutritionally required amounts of vitamins and mineral nutrients that must be added to the PBMA product and a minimum limit of total protein content, among other requirements. While NCL supports this approach, FDA should at least recommend levels of key vitamins and nutrients in its guidance and address concerns, such as allergenicity with labeling requirements to flag known allergens, such as soy.
  2. Educate consumers about the nutritional composition of plant-based protein alternatives

It is in the public interest for FDA and the US Department of Agriculture – along with nutrition societies – to conduct education programs that explain the nutritional composition of plant-based protein food products. This will allow consumers to make informed decisions based on science-based information.

Plant-based meat alternatives are a popular and valued part of our food supply. That is why the public needs regulatory policies that ensure the labels on these products are accurate, complete, and provide the qualifiers necessary for consumers to understand what they are purchasing.


[1] International Food Information Council. “Consumption Trends, Preferred Names and Perceptions of Plant-Based Meat Alternatives. November 3, 2021.

[2] Good Food Institute. US retail market data for the plant-based industry. Accessible at: https://gfi.org/marketresearch/

[3] Fortune. Plant-based food sales are expected to increase fivefold by 2030. August 11, 2021. Accessible at: https://fortune.com/2021/08/11/plant-based-food-sales-meat-dairy-alternatives-increase-by-2030/

NCL Public Policy Intern Tom Pahl

The complete picture: The need for alcohol labeling

NCL Public Policy Intern Tom PahlBy Tom Pahl, NCL Policy Intern

Tom Pahl is a 2021 graduate of Skidmore College, where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science.

Just about every consumable food and drug product has a label with information about the contents—from over-the-counter medications, dietary supplements, sodas, and chips to the candy bars we nab from a convenience store. And consumers rely on these labels to make sound purchasing decisions. Surveys show that about 77 percent of Americans use the standardized Nutrition Facts label required by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Yet, there is one type of consumable product where we don’t have this option: alcoholic beverages.

It is not an overstatement to say that alcoholic beverages have been part of human civilization since early humankind. Archeologists trace the first wine drinks to China around 7000 BC. Additionally, beverage alcohol has a fabled history in the United States, underscored by the so-called “noble experiment” called Prohibition from 1920-1933. In fact, Prohibition is the reason that regulation of most alcoholic beverages—including content labeling—is the responsibility of the Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).

Yet, the Federal Alcohol Administration Act, passed in 1935, created an exception to the rule. When alcoholic beverages contain more than 7 percent alcohol by volume, a standard measure known as ABV, TTB requires alcohol labeling. However, below 7 percent ABV, alcohol labeling falls under the purview of the FDA. This means different requirements for grape wine, sparkling or carbonated wine, fruit wine, saké, wine coolers, cider, and de-alcoholized or partially de-alcoholized wine. The requirements also apply to beers not made from malted barley, but instead malted barley substitutes, or made without hops like kombucha and gluten-free beer.

Why does this matter? Because alcoholic beverages regulated by FDA have the same standardized Nutrition Facts label as a soft drink (along with the ABV). This includes hard ciders and sparking wines that have taken the world by a storm in the past few years. In contrast, TTB allows the manufacturers of all other alcoholic beverages to “decide” whether to include nutritional labeling and, guess what? Surprise, surprise, the vast majority have no nutritional labels. Even more confounding, in any refrigerator, a bottle of beer and a bottle of hard cider made by the same company—to wit, Sam Addams beer and Angry Orchard Cider, made by the Boston Brewing Company—the beer has no nutritional information and the cider is fully labeled, proving that unless companies are required to label, they don’t do it!

It is true that TTB requires beer, spirits and wine makers to put specific information on product labels – including the type of alcohol, the alcohol content (ABV or proof), the net contents of the beverage, the coloring materials used, whether the beverage contains allergens, and the country of origin. As important as they are, these facts have nothing to do with health and nutrition and this information is more important than ever before due to the epidemic of obesity in the United States (almost 20 percent of men and 6 percent of women consume more than 300 calories from alcohol per day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and higher rates of diet-related diseases.

We know that when required by FDA, alcohol beverage manufacturers have figured out how to put a complete alcohol content label on their products. National Consumers League, along with other consumer organizations and public health groups, will continue to press TTB to issue a final rule requiring a mandatory Alcohol Facts label on all beer, wine and distilled spirits products. In 2021, consumers deserve the kind of robust labeling we see on other foods and which consumers understand, use, and need to make informed buying choices.

Food insecurity among African and Hispanic American communities in America

By Nailah John, Program Associate

Millions of Americans struggle with food insecurity—defined as limited or uncertain access to sufficient, nutritious food. People experiencing severe food insecurity skip meals or go hungry because they lack financial resources to purchase food. Food insecurity is associated with harmful consequences to physical and mental health, along with adverse behavioral and academic outcomes.

With millions of Americans out of work since mid-March 2020 due to COVID-19, low-income families and communities of color, who were already at risk for food insecurity, face even greater hardship. In March and April 2020, 48 percent of African American households and 52 percent of Hispanic households experienced food insecurity, according to data published in the American Journal of Public Health. Over many decades, discriminatory policies and practices have caused African American communities to be more likely to live in poverty, face unemployment, and have fewer financial resources, like savings or property, than their white counterparts.

Food deserts, which are common in low-income areas, have contributed to the crisis of food insecurity. Food deserts are regions where people have limited access to healthy and affordable food. In these areas, people’s nutritional options are often limited to cheaper, high-calorie, and less nutritious food. In eight of the 10 counties in the U.S. with the highest food insecurity rates, more than 60 percent of the residents are African American. Associate Professor of Kinesiology and Nutrition at Northern Illinois University, Odoms-Young, said “it is really not surprising when you consider the drivers of food insecurity: income, employment. It is also an accumulation of disadvantages that happens. I don’t think people always recognize that accumulation—how disadvantages can accumulate over generations and cause those disparities in wealth.”

African American and Hispanic American populations are disproportionately enrolled in the government Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This benefits over 35 million Americans. The Biden Administration recently allocated $1 billion to the SNAP benefits distributed each month, which will increase the food stamp benefits of approximately 25 million people. Food insecurity, unfortunately, continues to be a major problem in America, exacerbated by the effects of the pandemic, from the lack of access to reduced-cost school meals to high rates of unemployment.

Access to nutritious food is essential to creating a more healthy, sustainable, and productive society. It is, therefore, crucial that we continue to advocate for African American and Hispanic communities, which are most at risk for food insecurity.

National Consumers League releases its top 10 food and nutrition policy priorities for 2021

March 23, 2021

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org(412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org(202) 207-2832

Washington, DC—As the food and nutrition policy debate ramps up at the federal level, the National Consumers League (NCL) today released a 10-step action plan to address the explosion of food-related diseases in the United States and the unprecedented hunger and food safety challenges exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Announced at a time when policymakers must confront a series of crises affecting the health and nutritional status of the American public, NCL’s action plan focuses on implementing policies that will improve food safety, reduce food insecurity, and address food waste while also removing the pervasive roadblocks that keep consumers from making more informed food and beverage choices. Due to these barriers, research studies show that Americans, on average, consume 50 percent more sodium per day than health experts recommend, more than 80 percent have dietary patterns that are low in vegetables, fruit and dairy, and only 23 percent consume amounts of saturated fat consistent with the limit of less than 10 percent of calories.[i]

“Effective policies are necessary to overcome the fragmented food supply chains, child hunger, food waste, and food safety challenges caused or amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic,”said Sally Greenberg, NCL’s Executive Director. “At the same time, the threat of food-related disease requires the sustained attention of the advocacy community. This is why NCL will intensify its education and advocacy in 2021 to advance healthier eating, improve food safety, reduce food insecurity, and elevate food waste as a consumer issue.”

Serving as the consumer voice in championing policy solutions that will have a direct impact on the American public, NCL will focus its efforts these ten priorities:

  1. Elevate portion control and balance as a consumer issue

NCL will advance the recommendations contained in the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans to achieve a healthy balance of food choices through education and advocacy that emphasizes portion control and ensures consumers know the recommended daily intake of calories is 2,000 per day.

  1. Reduce excess sodium in the diet

Because excess sodium in the diet can raise blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke, NCL will encourage consumers to flavor foods with herbs and spices and choose products with reduced or no salt added, thereby advancing the goal set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to lower sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day.

  1. Improve the labeling of alternative sweeteners

NCL is supporting a Citizen’s Petition to FDA to ensure transparent labeling of novel sweeteners and has joined with other consumer groups in urging FDA to stop misleading claims, such as “No Added Sugars,” “Zero Sugar,” and “Reduced Sugars,” that imply a new product is healthier than the original without disclosing that the sugar reduction resulted from reformulation with artificial substances and sugar alcohols.

  1. Make Alcohol Facts labeling mandatory

Continuing a fight launched in 2003, NCL and other consumer, public health, medical, and nutrition organizations will urge the Treasury Department’s Bureau of Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade (TTB) to issue rules requiring an easy-to-read, standardized “Alcohol Facts” label that lists the ingredients in all beer, wine, and distilled spirits products. Currently, TTB has opted for voluntary labeling, and the result is that many products remain unlabeled or carry incomplete labeling information.

  1. Require labeling of caffeine content

Because FDA only requires that food labels disclose there is added caffeine in a food or beverage, NCL will press the agency to require that all products containing caffeine be required to list the amount per serving and per container. This will make it easier for consumers to know how much caffeine they are consuming from different products so they can stay below the 400 milligrams (mg) of caffeine per day level that FDA has determined is not generally associated with dangerous side effects.

  1. Modernize food standards of identity

Because many “standards of identity” — recipes for what a food product must contain and how it is manufactured — are now 75 and even 80 years old and out-of-date, NCL supports FDA’s action plan to modernize food standards of identity. NCL is also calling attention to several food products — such as olive oil, Greek yogurt, and canned tuna — where issuing new or updated standards of identity are needed now.

  1. Revise the definition of the term “Healthy” and front of pack food labeling symbols

While supporting FDA’s decision on modifying how “low fat” will be calculated as part of the agency’s criteria for when a food can be labeled as “healthy,” NCL will press FDA to address if and how added sugars content is calculated. NCL will also encourage FDA to adopt a “Traffic Light” labeling system to depict “healthy” on the front of the package.

  1. Strengthen the food safety system

NCL will work to make improvements in the nation’s food safety system, including pressing to expand pathogen testing in meat and poultry products and to finalize FDA’s Food Traceability Proposed Rule, which would establish a standardized approach to traceability record-keeping.

  1. Reduce the amount of food waste

Every year, about 90 billion pounds of food goes uneaten in the United States, with huge environmental and food insecurity consequences.  To change this food waste crisis, NCL will raise awareness of food loss and waste and inform consumers about how they can reduce food waste in their homes and when they go out to eat.

10. Increase funding and access to federal nutrition programs

NCL will work to make permanent the 15 percent Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit increase now included in the American Relief Plan, while also pressing for additional funding for the National School Lunch and Breakfast Program.

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.
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Is it a meat product or not?

By Nailah John, Program Associate

My husband has a great desire for meatless products, so on my weekly grocery shopping visits, I find myself standing in the freezer aisle for minutes reading the confusing labels on these meatless products. Many of the labels illustrated on the front of the packages usually have an image of a burger or chicken nuggets and can be difficult to distinguish between actually meat products. The packaging displays verbiage like Chik, Steaklet, Well Carved, Chick N’Mix, and are placed in areas where grocery shoppers purchase regular meat products, which makes it all the easier for consumers to mistakenly purchase meatless products.

Plant-based burgers and faux-chicken nuggets are the new trend and many consumers either want to try it or have fallen in love with the product. According to a poll done by Gallup in 2020, 41 percent of adults in the U.S. have tried a plant-based meat product. The study illustrated that about half of Americans are familiar with a plant-based product. The overall takeaway? Plant-based products are in fact getting pretty big so their popularity is growing. Many consumers of plant-based products have expressed that they are cutting back on their meat consumption. Health, the environment, and animal welfare are all cited as major reasons why. With more and more Americans trying these plant-based products labeling should be precise, not misleading.

Many industry leaders continue to recommend that these products should not use wording like “vegan” or “vegetarian” because it may turn away potential customers. It is also suggested that putting meat-free options in a separate vegetarian section of the menu or in the vegetarian section of a grocery store could reduce sales. The term plant-based has been the alternative to the word vegan which is more appealing to the consumers.

However lucrative marketing buzz words may be, the wording and imaging for products should reflect what the consumer is purchasing. This wordplay and product placement tactics are being used to bamboozle consumers.

We all have a right to know what is in our food, how it is produced, and where it is from. We also have the right as consumers to demand clear labeling. It’s challenging to stand in a grocery store for 5 to 10 minutes just trying to be sure that the plant-based product we’re looking to buy is actually plant-based. The labels and imagery do not reflect this by showing chicken-like nuggets, burgers, meatballs, and other imagery that sends a false message to our minds. As a consumer, I no longer want to be confused. I want to be able to easily differentiate between real meat and plant-based meat products.

Does your baby’s food contain toxic metals?

By Nailah John, Program Associate

As a mother, I once fed my baby with baby food only to later be told that some baby foods contain toxic metals at levels that exceed what experts and governing bodies say are safe. Congressional investigators have found dangerous levels of toxic heavy metals in many popular baby food brands. The World Health Organization says that the top 10 chemicals of concern for infants and children include arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury.  This exposure to heavy metals in childhood is linked to permanent dips in IQ, an increased risk of future criminal activity, and damaged long-term brain function.

Some pediatricians and children’s health experts say that heavy metals are found in soil and contaminate crops grown in it. Heavy metals can also get into food during manufacturing and packaging processes. However, the amount that is allowed in baby food products exceeds the limit. The nonprofit Healthy Babies led a national investigation and found that 95 percent of baby foods tested contain toxic chemicals. Fifteen foods accounted for half the risk, with rice-based foods at the top. Making these food and lifestyle changes can help reduce toxic metal residue:

  • Choose rice-free snacks over rice-based ones. Try a frozen banana or a chilled cucumber instead of rice-based teething biscuits.
  • Opt for oatmeal over rice cereal.
  • Give tap water over fruit juice.
  • Rather than sticking strictly to baby food made from sweet potatoes and carrots (which contain higher levels of metals), opt for baby food made from other fruits and vegetables.
  • Make your own baby food by buying, washing, and blending your own fruits and vegetables.
  • Don’t get stuck in the baby food phase. Baby food is meant to be transitional, used only for a few months. Introduce your babies to sources of protein like fish—salmon, tuna, cod, whitefish, and pollock.
  • Visit the pediatrician often in the first two years of your child’s life. This can help to identify any developmental problems.
  • Limit heavy metal exposure in other ways. Heavy metals are also found in peeling or chipping paint in older homes built before 1978.
  • Don’t smoke or vape as secondhand and even thirdhand smoke (or residue from smoking on furniture or clothes) may expose children to metals like cadmium and lead.

While individuals can do their part, the most significant changes will have to come through enforced legislation and stronger regulations on baby food. According to the recent congressional report, toxic metals in tested baby food eclipse safe levels, “including results up to 91 times the arsenic level, up to 177 times the lead level, up to 69 times the cadmium level, and up to 5 times the mercury level.” The report recommended that the Food and Drug Administration require baby food manufacturers to test their finished products for toxic heavy metals and label products that contain them. One of the most powerful ways of creating change is by calling your Member of Congress and urging them to use their voice to address the issue of heavy toxic metals in baby foods. As a mother, I plan to do so and so should you.

The evolution of American alcohol policy — and what’s next

By Nailah John, Program Associate

Alcohol is consumed by billions of consumers the world over. Humans drink alcohol for many reasons, including enjoying the taste or coping with stress while others consume alcohol because of social influences. More than 85 percent of people around the world consume alcohol. America’s alcohol policy has seen many ups and downs over many decades from prohibition in the 1920s to the end of prohibition in 1933, National Minimum Drinking Age Act in 1988, the Alcohol Beverage Labeling Act 1988 (ABLA), and the continued efforts for a “Nutritional Facts Label” on all alcoholic beverages by consumer advocacy groups.

Every other consumable product on the supermarket shelves is required to have a Nutritional Facts Label. That label has a list of required information about a food’s nutrient content, such as the calories, protein, vitamins, fat, sugar, sodium, and fiber. This is critically important consumer information for guiding healthy choices.

After Prohibition In 1935, the Federal Alcohol Administration governed alcohol regulation. In 2003, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) was formed, and alcohol continued to be regulated by this federal agency. Since the 1970s, consumer advocacy groups have worked for a comprehensive label on all alcoholic products. In 2003, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and the National Consumers League made a hard push for a nutritional facts label. Manufacturers asked for voluntary labels, making the argument that putting nutrition facts on all bottled of alcohol would make consumers think that alcohol was nutritious. In 2004, TTB sided with manufacturers and issued guidelines that allowed them to list calories, carbs, protein, and fat­—but only if they wished to do so voluntarily. In 2021, NCL and other groups are recommitting ourselves to this consumer information campaign.

The Dietary Guidelines 2020-2025 lay out the existing recommendations for sugar and alcohol, which recommend moderate alcohol consumption––up to one alcoholic drink per day for women and up to two per day for men. The CDC warns that alcohol consumption is associated with a variety of short and long-term health risks: high blood pressure, various cancers, motor vehicle accidents, violence, and sexually risky behavior. The CDC guidelines also note that pregnant women should refrain from alcohol consumption and that those with certain condition should avoid alcohol. That is true as well with certain medications.

More than half—55 percent—of Americans say they have had alcohol in the past month. An estimated 14.5 million American adults age 12 and older battled an alcohol use disorder, or 5.3 percent of this population. The bottom line is that if you drink, do so in moderation per the CDC and DGAC guidelines. And join with consumer advocates fighting for a nutritional facts label to be put on all alcoholic beverages.