Consumer groups obtain TTB commitment to issue rulemakings on mandatory alcohol labeling

November 21, 2022

Media contact: National Consumers League – Katie Brown,, (202) 823-8442

Washington D.C. — A coalition of consumer groups today announced an important victory for the American public: the Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) has agreed to issue proposed rules requiring standardized alcohol content, calorie, and allergen labeling on all beer, wine and distilled spirits products. TTB also agreed to begin preliminary rulemaking on mandatory ingredient labeling.

TTB’s decision comes after three national consumer organizations – the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Consumer Federation of America, and the National Consumers League – sued TTB on October 3, 2022, for failing to act on a 2003 petition to require alcohol labeling with the same basic transparency consumers expect for non-alcoholic beverages and food products. CSPI’s litigation department filed the complaint on behalf of the three organizations in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

Based on evidence that alcohol is a significant source of empty calories and increases the risk of certain cancers, alcohol use disorders, traffic accidents, and severe injuries, the 2003 petition specifically called for listing the amount of alcohol and calories per serving, the percent alcohol by volume, the serving size, the number of standard drinks per container, and other needed information to make fully informed drinking decisions. These consumer groups also petitioned for an ingredients listing on all alcoholic beverages, something that is a standard feature for other food products and particularly important to those with allergies or other chemical sensitivities.

As a result of the lawsuit, TTB committed to publishing three rulemakings covering mandatory nutrient and alcohol content labeling, mandatory allergen labeling, and mandatory ingredient labeling within the next year.

In addition to the lawsuit, the groups applauded the House and Senate Appropriations Committee for including report language in the FY23 Financial Services and General Government bill urging the agency to take action on this critical rule.

“This is a groundbreaking day for consumers,” said Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of the National Consumers League. “Consumer advocates have been trying for 19 years to get this far. Now there is light at the end of the tunnel. We thank the TTB for finally taking this action and look forward to working closely with the agency, the industry, and other consumer advocates to make sure this is done right and that consumers are the winners.”

“All we have requested over these two long decades is the kind of information that consumers expect when purchasing other foods and beverages,” said Peter Lurie, Executive Director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “We hope TTB can move quickly on this long overdue action.”

Better labeling requirements for alcoholic beverages will allow consumers to make more informed decisions,” said Thomas Gremillion, Director of Food Policy at Consumer Federation of America. “Consumers have a right to consistent, reliable, and relevant information about the products they buy. For too long, the alcohol industry has kept consumers in the dark, and TTB’s announcement is an important step forward.” 

The 2003 citizen petition was submitted to the Treasury Department by CSPI, CFA, and NCL and a coalition of 66 other organizations and eight individuals, including four deans of schools of public health.


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

NCL applauds federal agency’s decision to require mandatory labeling on all alcoholic beverages

November 18, 2022

Media contact: National Consumers League – Melody Merin,, (703) 298-2614

Washington D.C. — Today the National Consumers League hailed the decision by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), the federal agency that oversees alcohol labeling, to require mandatory labeling on all alcoholic beverages as a “great consumer victory.” NCL is grateful to the agency for this welcome – albeit long overdue – decision.

In 2003, NCL and other consumer groups filed a petition calling on TTB to provide consumers with robust nutritional information about the alcoholic beverages they drink. Today, 19 years later, the agency acted to grant the petition. The November 17 letter from TTB can be viewed here.

NCL and other consumer groups pursued two avenues this year to get movement on the labeling of alcoholic beverages: filing a lawsuit this past fall against the agency and working with Congress.

NCL also thanks the Senate and House Appropriations Committees for their inclusion of language in the Fiscal Year 2023 Financial Services and General Government Funding Bill that urges the agency to move toward mandatory nutritional labeling of alcoholic beverages.


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

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,, (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] 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.


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


Groups call on TTB for alcohol labeling – National Consumers League

February 22, 2019

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay,, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling,, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC–The Center for Science in the Public Interest, Consumer Federation of America, and National Consumers League sent a letter today to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin today criticizing the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) for its proposal to “modernize” the labeling and advertising regulations for alcoholic beverages without requiring key information about alcohol content, serving size, calories, ingredients, and allergen information. The groups petitioned the agency in 2003 to require this information on alcohol labels, and provided survey data showing that the public overwhelmingly supports including this information on the labels of alcoholic beverages. The agency issued proposed rules to require mandatory allergen labeling in 2006 and Serving Facts information in 2007, but has not moved to finalize either rule.

“While the TTB may believe that the issues are complex, the agency has now had over a decade to consider them, and rulemakings to provide this key information are already well underway,” the groups write. “These rules should be prioritized under any effort to modernize alcohol labeling.”

Read the full letter here (PDF).

About the National Consumers League

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


Kosher labeling and the importance of independent food safety checks – National Consumers League

Kosher food made headlines last week in the aftermath of a multi-state Salmonella outbreak that killed one person and sickened 17 others. Illnesses spanned September 25, 2017 to June 4, 2018 – a shockingly lengthy amount of time in the food safety world. The CDC is not taking any further action, and no products have been recalled.

The tainted brand, Empire Kosher chicken, issued a statement that read, in part, “We take food safety and the health of our consumers very seriously and any illness, even potentially linked to our products, is unacceptable. We continue to very aggressively work to ensure the quality and safety of our products.”

This statement piqued an interest – aggressive quality assurance and …Kosher? Even as an infrequent consumer of Kosher foods, I began to dig, and what I found surprised me: A study from Mintel estimated 21 percent of Americans eat Kosher foods, a market trend driven in large part by consumer confidence in food safety procedures in both the Kosher and Halal (i.e., religious) certification schemes. Further, Kosher certification systems have been described as a model for private agencies that audit food production and processing facilities globally.

But beyond the basics of religious doctrine, what are the specific benefits of Kosher certification, particularly in this day and age? What can the secular world learn from the largest religious labeling scheme in the world – one that appears on half of all packaged food products?

First, some basic terminology is necessary. Hundreds of hechsher (Hebrew: seal of approval) labeling schemes exist – including text in Hebrew or English, symbols, and even decorative logos. The labels serve to illustrate adherence to religious dietary laws by differentiating between meat, dairy, or neutral foods. They are also used to denote the utensils used for preparation, other production process, and even food service venues with specific kashrut-related needs. Generally, dairy foods have a small “D” or the word “dairy” next to the Kosher label, though meats usually do not have extra labels. Neutral foods, those that are neither meat nor dairy, include a P for Pareve.

Just as there are hundreds of Kosher labeling schemes, there are thousands of Kosher certification agencies, in fact, 1,400+ as of July 2018. The agencies span regional to international food systems and include specialty as well as Israeli-specific foods. However, agencies known as the “Big Four” certify over 80 percent of kosher food sold in the US: Orthodox Union (“OU,” designated by a U inside a circle), Organized Kashrut (“OK,” designated by a K inside a circle), Star-K Kosher Certification (a K inside a star), and Kosher Certification and Supervision (“KOF-K,” ). In any given secular grocery store, the most frequently seen symbols are OU and OK, respectively, the two biggest kosher certification agencies.

Above all else, the Kosher certification process enhances traceability – allowing consumers to know where their food was sourced, processed, packaged, and finally, distributed. Quite unlike federal regulatory food safety systems, Kosher labeling is notable for fulfilling consumers’ most desired traits in their food products: traceability and transparency. The lack of traceability, monitoring, and enforcement is a systemic problem in today’s global food system, and can easily be called the culprit in the lengthy process to identify the source of E. coli contamination in the recent Romaine lettuce outbreak.

The agency responsible for overseeing the Kosher certification process at Empire Kosher chicken was OU, .  But given that OU is a private, independent certification agency that oversees 1 million products at 8,500 processing plants, we can only expect pathogen risk to be reduced, not eliminated. If anything, the recent outbreak of Salmonella linked to Empire Kosher chicken ultimately shows the strength of Kosher labeling and safety regimes, given how few outbreaks have been linked to Kosher foods in the last decade. Moreso, it provides a much needed model for the federal government to modernize using systems-based approaches (i.e., from farm to fork) for all measures of food safety testing, public communication, and importantly, compliance.

While Kosher certified products do have a better safety record with less risk of being involved food safety outbreaks, even Kosher certification is not perfect, as we see from the Empire chicken outbreak. Clearly as this story shows, we have a lot of work to do to get our entire food system up to a level where all of us can be sure that we are safe from dangerous foodborne illness. 

The role of technology in meeting consumer demands for product info – National Consumers League

Entering the grocery store, more than 40,000 products are right at your fingertips. As our Food Policy Fellow Haley Swartz has written about previously, choice overload and the “tyranny of too much” are increasingly common for consumers in grocery store aisles.

In an age when nutrition, health, and product safety are major consumer priorities, it becomes increasingly important to know what are in the items you purchase, and how they compare to the many other options on the grocery shelf.

Transparency itself is in high demand, as some have even called it the must-have ingredient for successful food companies in the modern era. Substantial consumer research data also indicates consumer demand for industry transparency, particularly in food and beverage manufacturing. The 2016 Label Insight Food Revolution Study found that 71 percent of consumers believed product transparency influences their purchasing decisions at the grocery store. A July 2017 survey found even more striking results, that 70 percent of purchases were influenced by transparency content.

A more recent survey from May 2018 found that if consumers were provided with additional information about a product, 80 percent said they would be more likely to buy it. In fact, more than two-thirds of respondents said that their interest about the information on product labels has increased over just the past two years.

Shoppers across the country are hungry for detailed information about what is in a product, why it is there, how it is produced, and what impact it has on the environment and their health. This call for more product information could be a result of the increasing complexity of food manufacturing, occurrence of allergies in the United States, and heightened awareness about the effect food has on our health.

A variety of tools aim to help anxious consumers wade through the noise to find the information they seek. But product packaging is becoming increasingly complex, enough so that some have called it a “competitive piece of real estate.” Only some of the information consumers want can be available directly in sight during grocery shopping experiences or when they are at home making out their shopping lists.

One tool that answers this question is SmartLabel, a digital disclosure tool which makes more information than can ever fit on a label available to consumers. SmartLabel works using a smartphone to scan barcodes or QR codes on food, beverages, personal care, and household products in the grocery store. Once the barcode is scanned, a SmartLabel website page provides detailed information about a range of things: ingredients, nutritional facts, allergens, usage instructions, third-party certifications, such as Kosher, and other information such as whether a food contains genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The information can also be found by going to on a computer while you’re at home.

As of June 2018, SmartLabel is being used on nearly 28,000 food, beverage, personal care and household products in grocery stores, with many more products on the way.

The National Consumers League food policy team applauds the grocery manufacturers and retailing industry for responding to consumer demand and working to create a way for consumers to find more transparent information about the products they are purchasing. We hope that the industry will continue to roll out similar initiatives that promote the best interests of consumers and respond to demand in the marketplace.


NCL’s visit to Corto Olive: An examination of true EVOO production – National Consumers League

corto.jpgBy Ali Schklair, Linda Golodner Food Safety & Nutrition Fellow 

Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is a fairly recent addition to the American kitchen. Due to the popularity of the Mediterranean diet and the promotion of “healthy fats,” many consumers are now opting for EVOO as their primary cooking oil. Over the past few decades, olive oil producers worldwide have scrambled to keep up with increasing consumer demand. Unfortunately, the majority of “extra virgin olive oil” available to consumers is not truly EVOO.

Results of a 2010 UC Davis EVOO study found that approximately 69 percent of imported oil labeled “extra virgin olive oil” is mislabeled. An emphasis on imported oils is important for two reasons: one, imported extra virgin olive oil dominates 97 percent of the EVOO market in the United States; two, there are no federally mandated quality standards for imported products in the United States. As a result, we are left with an unregulated EVOO market that is inundated with low quality olive oil.

In this industry, fraud starts in the fields. This fall, NCL’s Linda Golodner Food Safety & Nutrition Fellow Ali Schklair visited Corto Olive, a family-run olive oil company based in Lodi, California. There was something distinctly different about the olive trees at Corto. Instead of large and looming, these trees were trim, contained, and steadied by lean trunks. Schklair later learned that the shape and positioning of these trees is the reason Corto is able produce such high quality oil.

Traditionally, olives were picked by hand, making the harvesting process tedious and time consuming. As imported EVOO gained popularity in the U.S., many of the companies abroad did not have enough labor to satisfy demand. Without time to inspect each olive, oil producers started waiting for olives to rot and fall to the ground. The fruit (and the dirt, sticks, and leaves along with it) could then be easily raked up and sent to the mill. To mask the rancidity, oil is often refined, mixed with small amounts of good oil, and even altered in color and consistency. Rotting fruit, refining, and the mixing of oils mean that this oil is no longer high quality EVOO. Still, the manipulated product is shipped off to the U.S., too often falsely stamped with the “extra virgin olive oil” label.

In 1990, farmers in Spain developed an alternative harvesting system that allows olives to be picked at peak freshness. The “super high-density method” has olive trees planted and pruned close together so a special harvesting machine-not able to fit around traditional trees-can easily fit between rows.  The best producers in the U.S., like Corto, have adopted this method in order to provide higher quality oil than their international counterparts.

Once olives are harvested, they are brought to the mill for sorting and washing. Unlike most mills, Corto uses a special sorting machine called the “optical sorter” to remove only undesirable materials from the batch. This technology is used in other aspects of food processing, but Corto is the first to use it for olive oil. Corto’s use of the high-density method and an optical sorter is unique and ensures their oil is fresh and authentically extra virgin.

Extra virgin olive oil has gained popularity in the U.S. because of its many health benefits, which are real and important. But with such high instances of adulteration, it’s safe to assume that most consumers aren’t really getting what they pay for. So, how can consumers know if the oil they buy is truly extra virgin? Unfortunately, it’s hard to know for certain because most of our palates are not trained to recognize the real thing.

Throughout Europe, especially in the Mediterranean, olive oil is used as commonly as salt and pepper in the U.S. Understandably, taste is very important. In the U.S., products labeled “extra virgin olive oil” are mostly used in cooking, making it easier for lower quality oil to fly under the radar. Tom Mueller, author of the book Extra Virginity, offers information and tips on his website to help consumers make more informed choices. Using resources like this, and by putting a higher value on taste, consumers can learn to shop for higher quality oil and actually reap the benefits they seek. There are a number of honest, high quality EVOO brands on the market, including Corto. Please see NCL’s EVOO testing results here.

Promoting health or products? A look into the Facts Up Front program

factsupfront.pngDue to the work of the Facts Up Front campaign, today’s food products are marked with labels that advertise their nutrition facts. You have most likely seen them as the small snapshot of information on the front corners of products like cereal and bread. While this is a promising health campaign, consumers should be wary because these labels can often be misleading.

Facts Up Front was primarily developed by leaders in the food industry to help grocery shoppers like you and me easily identify nutritious food, when we may not have the time to read an entire Nutrition Facts panel.

Consumers seeking nutritional information should take a closer look at nutrition labels, as sometimes the food industry has been remiss in keeping honesty at the forefront of their labeling and marketing of products. Several years ago, one labeling campaign called “Smart Choices,” promoted sugar-laden, highly processed products as healthy options. Programs like Smart Choices, which had lenient criteria for what was considered “healthy,” lacked credibility and soon disappeared. Walter C. Willett, chairman of the nutrition department of the Harvard School of Public Health, said that the less healthy products that were given the Smart Choices’ seal of approval were in fact, “horrible choices.” As consumer advocates, we would like to see the food industry put the health of consumers at the heart of their new and improved labeling system.

Currently, Facts Up Front labels are only used by food companies that choose to display nutrition facts on the front of their packaging, which also raises some red flags. Michael Jacobson, the executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, stated that Facts Up Front’s “voluntary nature means you may not see it on junk foods. And even if you did, it wouldn’t successfully highlight the food’s unhealthfulness.” There is no breakdown of the label information until you search online for Facts Up Front or a nutrition information website. The Facts Up Front labels show only the amount of calories, saturated fat, sodium, and sugar per serving on product packaging. The campaign may only display information about up to two nutrients or vitamins on front-of-packaging labels if the products meet FDA standards of a “good source,” which applies to foods that have 10 to 19 percent of the recommended daily value of a specific nutrient. The fact is, it is difficult for consumers to use these labels intuitively to make a “healthy decision,” which is what the campaign aims to accomplish.

The quick, simple informational element of this campaign requires more intensive public nutrition education, because it is clear that misleading nutrition marketing can, and does, occur. Facts Up Front can use the help of health marketing research, such as the Institute of Medicine’s 2011 study on front-of-package labels, and should continue to work with advocates to ensure labels provide the most honest, easy-to-use, and factual information to consumers. In the meantime, consumers should “trust, but verify” all nutrition labeling on food products.

Olive oil mislabeling: Are consumers catching on? – National Consumers League

The food marketplace has come a long way in the past century. Before Upton Sinclair wrote “The Jungle,” consumers used to unknowingly eat rats and human body parts in their ground beef. Today, consumers assume they can walk into a grocery store and buy that is both safe and properly labeled. But this assumption is frequently wrong–NCL recently discovered that to be the case with many brands of “extra virgin olive oil.”

The National Consumers League has advocated for consumer rights since 1899, long before Sinclair’s famous novel, exposing green beans dyed green at the 1904 World’s Fair. In the past decade, the League has investigated the term “fresh” used on canned tomatoes, tested bottles labeled “100% real lemon juice” which proved to be far short of 100% lemon juice and brought lawsuits against several bakeries and national restaurant chains for using misleading labeling, suggesting their white bread products were whole grain. With word of rampant olive oil mislabeling on the rise, as reflected in another book, Tom Mueller’s Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil, NCL staff decided to go shopping and investigate what exactly a consumer might get when he or she takes home “extra virgin” olive oil.

NCL purchased 11 different varieties of olive oil, all labeled extra virgin, each bought in January 2015, from four major Washington, DC area retailers (Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe’s, Safeway, and Giant). One bottle of each product was tested, so this was not meant to be a “study” or a “buyer’s guide,” but rather off-the-shelf testing as to what a consumer might buy within a year. This was an independent sampling, which NCL paid out-of-pocket, that included a battery of chemical and sensory tests that are not inexpensive. Bottles were selected from the back of lower shelves to ensure they were not damaged by exposure to natural or artificial lighting. U.S. and European brands and oils were tested, including private label oils. NCL did not test all brands that a consumer might buy.

Of the 11 products tested, six failed to meet extra virgin olive oil standards as set by the International Olive Council (IOC).  Five were found to be extra virgin olive oils. These are:

  • California Olive Ranch “Extra Virgin Olive Oil” – Classified as extra virgin.
  • Colavita “Extra Virgin Olive Oil” – Classified as extra virgin.
  • Trader Joe’s “ Extra Virgin California Estate Olive Oil” – Classified as extra virgin.
  • Trader Joe’s “100% Italian Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil” – Classified as extra virgin.
  • Lucini “Premium Select Extra Virgin Olive Oil” – Classified as extra virgin.

The testing NCL commissioned was conducted by the Australian Olive Research Laboratory. There are no laboratories in the United States fully accredited by IOC for chemical and sensory testing, so the bottles were shipped overseas to the fully accredited laboratory in Australia.

Although NCL’s sampling set of brands differed, the findings from our testing appeared to be similar to those from testing conducted by Consumer Reports and UC Davis where more than 50% approximately in some way failed to meet “extra virgin” standards. Many of the companies that failed NCL’s testing have had products fail other authenticity tests, so why haven’t they cleaned up their products, or haven’t taken steps to ensure that the oil labeled as “extra virgin” reaches consumers’ hands as extra virgin? Several brands in all of this testing were able to do so.

Failing to make the cut

Mislabeled olive oil can have many explanations. First, producers may be bottling olive oil that was never extra virgin to begin with and attempting to pass it off as extra virgin. This result could be the product of using refined olive oil (made with heat or chemicals that can’t be used to make extra virgin), old oils or oils made from rotten olives, or even mixing in seed oils. Extra virgin olive oil is actually a “fruit juice” without defects of older or rancid oils, meaning that to be extra virgin it needs to be freshly squeezed quickly after harvesting from good olives. Even the best extra virgin will degrade and become rancid over time or by exposure to light or extreme heat. The U.S. has voluntary standards for classifying olive oil and virtually no governmental authenticity testing, making it a prime target for producers to pass off their poorer oils in the US.

The second explanation is perhaps that producers are careless or worse about setting “best by” dates, establishing these dates for far longer than the actual life of the extra virgin oil, or the oil doesn’t hold up to the time it takes for shipping and retail shelf life before it reaches the consumers’ hands. Some producers who have failed other extra virgin olive oil testing have stood up for their product and corrected the problems that lead to consumers purchasing mislabeled oils. Other producers have ignored testing, fail results or have blamed “transit issues,” and continue to provide consumers with mislabeled product. The producer’s name is on the bottle, it should ultimately be the producer’s responsibility to make sure that the oil is correctly labeled extra virgin, and has a good chance of reaching the consumers’ hands in that condition. Some producers seem able to achieve this result, so what is stopping others from doing the same?

In addition to conducting testing of 11 bottles of olive oil, NCL intends to file a consumer complaint to FDA, urging the agency to take action on what appears to be rampant olive oil mislabeling in the US. The FDA itself issued a qualified health claim stating that olive oil offers important health benefits when used to replace foods high in saturated fat as long as overall calories are not increased. Health benefits like these are found mainly in the extra virgin grade. Consumers are deprived of these benefits for which they pay a premium when they purchase mislabeled extra virgin olive oil.

Call for tougher regulations

While NCL applauds the producers of the brands whose oils tested as extra virgin off the shelf, something must be done to hold olive oil companies accountable. For starters, the United States could adopt mandatory federal labeling, grading and testing standards and methodologies. California could be a model for this, where it recently approved for its larger producers more stringent testing parameters and methodologies than current standards often employed. While California’s stricter standards are welcome, it supplies only about 2 percent of America’s total olive oil needs. Federal standards similar to those which California enacted would be the first step in guaranteeing that consumers are getting what they pay for when it comes to olive oil.

What can consumers do?

For consumers, buying extra virgin olive oil with confidence in the United States is a challenge. With the present lack of off-the-shelf testing and enforcement of US standards, it is difficult for consumers to know the real from the not so extra virgin.

According to NCL, consumers should:

  • Choose brands that consistently pass testing. Research prior testing and articles on authenticity, determine which producers are transparent in their processing, and judge for themselves which oils work well with their food and cooking and which don’t.
  • Check for “best by” dates, or – even better – harvest dates.
  • Avoid buying oils in clear glass bottles or from the top shelf, which could be more likely to be degraded. But, warned the NCL, even that is not foolproof, and buying oil in tins or dark bottles does not mean that there is extra virgin oil in there.
  • Remember that the USDA Organic label is also no indication of authenticity, and the fact that an oil is from Italy or another producing country is likewise not a good indicator.

Retailers, particularly the larger retailers, could educate themselves about the latest authenticity issues and the proper testing that can detect mislabeled oil and institute their own testing protocols. If the appropriate tests are employed, producers and suppliers will have a strong incentive to rectify the problems that several tests, including NCL’s, have brought to light.

Should the word “natural” be banned from food labels? – National Consumers League

According to The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “natural” means…very little.  The only guidelines FDA provides are that foods labeled as natural should not contain added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances.  These loose guidelines, which were put into effect in 1993 as an informal policy, are puzzling consumers and food manufactures alike.

So much contention surrounds the word natural that the Grocery Manufacturers Association came out in support of the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act introduced in the House last April.  The bill would require FDA to define the term “natural” for use on food and beverage products, finally providing more guidance for industry and consumers.

The issue with defining the word natural is that it’s difficult to draw a line where natural stops and artificial begins.  Take an apple for example.  That seems to be very natural as it grows directly from the ground and little to no processing occurs but would it still be considered natural if it contained synthetic chemical preservatives?  What about synthetic pesticide residue? Could a very processed food like Bugles be considered “natural” if it was made entirely from products originating from the earth?

Not only was FDA faced with a massive grey zone of “natural” definitions when they first requested comment on the word’s definition twenty years ago, but they also needed to protect first amendment rights and therefore could not prohibit its use altogether.  Ultimately, FDA took a hands off approach.  Labeling practices have become more contentious, with political battles surrounding GMOs and country of origin labeling, and the time has come to address the issue.

At the end of the day, manufacturers just want to sell their product. Consumers have come to associate the term “natural” with healthy food. And so, food manufacturers continue to label as many foods as possible natural to attract more buyers. The lack of a strict definition for “natural,” however, causes it to be used in a variety of circumstances where it makes unhealthy foods, look healthy or “good” to consumers.  Even if FDA managed to pull together a definition for natural, it would no doubt be abused.  Soda made from cane sugar or other natural ingredients would be deemed “natural” (case in point Seven-Up, which later dropped their 100% natural claims).  The human body doesn’t necessarily process it differently and it certainly isn’t healthy no matter how the ingredients were produced.

Soda is just one example of the many possibilities where natural could be misused.  The term “natural” should simply be banned from labeling.  It carries little to no meaning in terms of its perceived health benefits and should not serve as decision making tool for consumers.