Regulating Inherently Subjective Food Labeling Claims
14 Pages Posted: 11 Dec 2017
Date Written: December 6, 2017
For many consumers, the modern food label serves as the sole source of information regarding any individual food product. While it may be considered informative in some respects, it is often enigmatic in others. The present debate regarding the creation of a federal regulation to define use of the term “healthy” exemplifies the difficulties associated with seemingly subjective food labeling claims.The law requires manufacturers to include certain facts on food labels. However, they are permitted to include additional voluntary statements related to the healthfulness of the food product, the presence or absence of certain ingredients, and information related to production and growing methods, among other things. These claims have the potential to cause consumers a great deal of confusion, particularly with regard to their veracity. Many scholars have analyzed First Amendment limits on the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) ability to restrict specific types of claims, yet few have addressed the issue of whether the agency can and should restrict claims unable to be supported by significant scientific agreement due to the inherent subjectivity of the claim. This Essay proposes FDA adopt such an approach as a means of effectuating the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act’s purpose of protecting consumers from false or misleading food product labels. As an alternative, if FDA is unwilling to restrict those claims altogether, this Essay suggests the agency could require curative disclaimers on labels, as they do for qualified health claims, that are not supported by significant scientific agreement.
Keywords: food, food, drug, and cosmetic act, labels, first amendment, label claims, false and misleading, healthy, natural
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