Hungry for Change: The Law and Policy of Food Health Labeling
56 Pages Posted: 14 Apr 2019 Last revised: 15 Feb 2020
Date Written: March 14, 2019
While food consumption is a pre-requisite for human life, the effects of the modern diet can be dire. Modern unhealthy diets have been linked to a variety of negative health conditions. These include diabetes, ischaemic heart disease, stroke, cancer, and the obesity epidemic. Globally, an unhealthy diet is considered to be a factor in one-fifth of deaths. Alas, 69 percent of Americans are either overweight or obese. This may lead to further negative externalities, imposing significant costs on public health systems. For instance, the total annual cost of the obese population in the USA alone is estimated to be more than $315 billion.
In light of this reality, regulators around the world have been striving to create markets where consumers are more informed of their nutritional choices. Front-of-package food labeling is a prime example. Such labeling is designed to simplify food choices for consumers and help them make healthier decisions.
Indeed, regulators in several countries have implemented labeling systems that provide consumers with an explicit label that aspires to communicate the health-related value of foods. Nonetheless, the current regulatory efforts are underdeveloped, ununified, partial in scope and under-theorized. This study bridges some of this gap.
The Article is organized as follows: Part I introduces the law and policy landscape of food health labeling, focusing on the notions of information asymmetry, credence qualities and dual reasoning. Part II then discusses the problems with, and limitations of, the Health Star Rating system. The system, currently implemented in Australia and New Zealand, is the most recent system to be introduced in a common law country. Next, Part III looks into three other key food health labeling methods employed in different parts of the world. Thereafter, Part IV provides specific legal recommendations and policy suggestions. Subsequently, Part V addresses some important critiques with respect to our proposals. A brief conclusion follows.
Keywords: behavioral economics, consumer behavior, consumer protection, dual reasoning, food labeling, food labeling policy, front-of-package labeling, health labeling, information asymmetry, informed decisions, obesity epidemic
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