The Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990 requires more than a new label format. It also mandates educational efforts to explain the new label and its role in making healthy diet choices.
Unfortunately, Congress didn't appropriate any money for an educational campaign.
So the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are relying on trade associations, health care professionals and corporate partners to help spread the word.
This effort is tracked by the Food Labeling Education Information Center, a clearinghouse for publicity programs about the new food label and part of USDA's National Agricultural Library.
In addition, where possible, FDA "public affairs people throughout the country have been doing a lot of outreach programming and training to consumer groups and industry," according to an official. In 1990, the National Food Processors Association launched the Food Label Education Project to produce educational and promotional materials to help consumers understand the new food label.
Last summer, in cooperation with FDA, USDA and the American Dietetic Association, "Label Facts for Healthful Eating" was published. The supply of the education kit was quickly exhausted and a second edition adding information about the technical amendments released in August 1993 is in the process of being published.
It includes an educator's resource guide, reproductions of the new label styles, one consumer brochure about the new food label and another explaining daily values, plus 16 fact sheets defining terms such as fiber, fat and carbohydrate.
Last fall, Campbell Soup Co., Camden, N.J., worked with ADA and the Food Processors Institute, the educational arm of NFPA, to sponsor 16 workshops for health professionals in about 12 cities.
"We feel the education part of this is very important because the format is new and different," says Marsha Cade, director of scientific information at Campbell Soup.
Campbell also co-sponsored a program with the consumer group Public Voice. "Smart Selections for Healthy Eating" includes a 16-page consumer booklet on how to use and understand the new label as well as a 60-minute video. It's offered directly to consumers and health professionals through ads in magazines and newspapers and professional conferences.
The company's most recent effort, called "Make the Connection," shows how to link the new label to USDA's food guide pyramid. It consists of an education kit for dietitians and a consumer booklet. It's available through newspaper and magazine offers and through dietitians, who can order it in bulk to distribute to clients and at health fairs.
Kraft General Foods also has teamed up with ADA to develop a consumer aid called "A Matter of Balance, Using the New Food Labels."
Other programs include: General Mills' "Putting the Nutrition Label Puzzle Together," Giant Food's "Eater's Almanac," Nabisco's "Introducing the New Food Label," and Perdue Farms' "Learning to Use the New Food Labels."