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Consumer News

A More “Consumer Friendly” Approach to Food Labels

By Paula Ebben, WBZ-TV
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Award-winning journalist Paula Ebben co-anchors WBZ-TV News at 5PM...
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Read the food labels and eat healthier.  That’s the advice we hear all the time.

But those labels are not nearly as helpful as they could be according to a survey by www.consumerworld.org.

The problem is the information is presented in the metric system.

One shopper told us that’s why the data isn’t very helpful to him.  “I was born in the United States where we don’t use the metric system,” he added.

The metric system on food labels was mandated by the federal government almost 20 years ago.  Critics say because the concept of grams and milligrams never caught on here, the system needs to be revamped and made more “consumer” friendly.

Edgar Dworsky of www.consumerworld.org believes people would adjust what they consume, and the amount of it, if the contents of food products was expressed in teaspoons.

They surveyed 700 consumers and found shoppers vastly underestimated the amount of sugar when it was listed in grams, for example.

Dworsky explained, “80% didn’t know that 39 grams of sugar is the equivalent of 9.2 teaspoons of sugar and that is what is in a can of Coke.”

The Food and Drug Administration set this system up to assist scientist in the testing process, according to Dworsky.

He believes it is a disservice to shoppers today, however.  “The trouble is consumers are supposed to be looking at products, reading the labels, become educated about what they are putting in their bodies.  But if it is in grams and milligrams, that is a foreign language to most people and the warning doesn’t serve its purpose.”

When told that a juice cocktail drink had 11 teaspoons of sugar in it, a shopper told us that would cause her to avoid it.

Dworsky has sent his findings to the FDA in hopes they will consider updating the system.

He is anticipating support from the food industry.  “I think the food manufacturing industry is thrilled with the metric system, because they can put all kinds of fat and all kinds of sugar in their products and most consumers can’t tell how much it really is.”

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