Food industry advocate and journalist Mark Bittman wrote a compelling op-ed about food labels in last Sunday’s edition of The New York Times. The article titled “My Dream Food Label,” outlined what he thinks are the most important aspects a food label should contain.
Apart from labeling GMOs, many believe that current food labels don’t meet consumer needs. Too much information, combined with oft-confusing serving sizes, percent daily values, and loopholes such as trans fat content (a company can label a product 0 grams trans fat even if it has 0.5 g trans fats per serving—eat more than a serving and you're consuming quite a bit).
Plus, the simple back-of-package location of the current food label can be easily overlooked by hurried shoppers.
The answer, Bittman argues, is to adopt the traffic light model (green means a great choice, yellow means eat sometimes, red means eat sparingly or never).
Multi-dimensional food scoring
Current traffic light models measure foods one-dimensionally. They are based solely on nutritional content. In collaboration with the design firm Werner Design Werks, Bittman conceptualized a front-of-package food label factoring in nutrition, welfare (of the workers who made the product, sustainability, carbon footprint, that sort of thing), and what he calls “foodness.”
“‘Foodness’ is a tricky, perhaps even silly word, but it expresses what it should. Think about the spectrum from fruit to Froot Loops or from chicken to Chicken McNuggets and you understand it,” explains Bittman.
The traffic light label would be based on a point system corresponding to the three criteria. “Every packaged food label would feature a color-coded bar with a 15-point scale so that almost instantly the consumer could determine whether the product’s overall rating fell between 11 and 15 (green), 6 and 10 (yellow) or 0 and 5 (red),” he says.
Plus, GMOs are labeled.
See the accompanying New York Times graphic below (click to enlarge).
Do you think Bittman’s food label could actually work? Share your thoughts in the comments below.