Reporter Discovers Rounding on Food Labels

Filed in Social IssuesTags: Health/Nutrition

I guess it's Pick On day...

On the launch of the new FDA food label requirements, one HealthFinder reporter discovers that labels can legally accomodate for rounding:

THURSDAY, Jan. 12 (HealthDay News) -- When it comes to food labels that list levels of unhealthy trans fats, zero plus zero doesn't always equal zero.

That's because newly implemented U.S. Food and Drug Administration rules on labeling allow foods with less than 0.5 grams of trans fats per serving to claim "zero" grams of trans fats on their labels.

Under these guidelines, which went into effect on Jan. 1, a food with 0.4 grams of trans fats can be listed as having zero trans fats. That means that Americans who consume three or four servings of these foods in a day will have unwittingly eaten an extra gram or two of trans fats.

...Barbara Schneeman, director of the Office of Nutritional Products, Labeling and Dietary Supplements for the FDA said the reason the FDA is allowing foods under 0.5 grams of trans fats to be rounded down to zero is that current detection methods for trans fats aren't very reliable below 0.5 grams.

Um, hello?!? Has our illustrious reporter never before looked at a food label? Has she not noticed that ALL macro-nutrients - fat, carbohydrate, and protein - as well as their sub-categories (e.g. saturated fat, fiber) are subject to the same rounding rules?

Free. This term means that a product contains no amount of, or only trivial or "physiologically inconsequential" amounts of, one or more of these components: fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, sugars, and calories. For example, "calorie-free" means fewer than 5 calories per serving, and "sugar-free" and "fat-free" both mean less than 0.5 g per serving. Synonyms for "free" include "without," "no" and "zero." A synonym for fat-free milk is "skim".

Here's another "shocker" for our reporter: ">1g" means 0.5-0.9 grams. The reason for such rounding? First, the meaningful differences between zero, >0.5, 0.5-0.9, and 1.0g of a macronutrient are negligible. Second, as mentioned in the article, detection methods for such small amounts are not terribly accurate or reliable.

The problem lies not with the rounding, but with the often-asinine "serving" sizes listed on labels. Easy fix: list both the nutrition information for a serving size, as well as for the package as a whole. Most questions of "hidden" amounts of macronutrients would then disappear.