WHO Calls for ‘Harmonization’ on Nutrition Facts on Food Labels Around the World

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The World Health Organization is seeking more “harmonization” on front-of-package nutrition facts on food labels around the world, in order to help protect consumers from diet-related illnesses.

Currently, aside from a few regulated terms like “organic,” manufacturers can use whatever language they choose on product packaging, even highlighting nutrition facts for serving sizes smaller than what’s in the package, which can be misleading and dangerous.

“We need more harmonization; we need more clarity,” Francesco Branca of the WHO’s department of nutrition for health and development said at a recent event in Geneva. “There is quite a lot out there in the different countries.”

According to Food Navigator, the WHO has already been working with the Codex Committee on Food Labelling “to amend the mandatory list of nutrients required on pre-packaged foods,” and so far the groups have reached agreements on “sodium, total sugars, saturated fatty acids and trans fatty acids.”

Part of the problem, according to Branca, is that there are many references on front-of-packaging nutrition facts, including logos that look very similar to others but use different language. “Regulation is probably a needed step, but there is a long way to go,” he said.

The move is getting support from one of the biggest packaged food manufacturers, Unilever, even though the company says it will lead to price increases. Paul Whitehouse, Unilever’s global regulatory affairs manager said, “We need leadership from global organizations and we need to know what we’re doing is working.”

Branca said that color coding may be an option that works for all nations and is particularly helpful on the consumer levels, citing that it’s the tool “consumers find easiest to understand when there is complexity of information.”

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Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites OrganicAuthority.com and EcoSalon.com, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better. www.jillettinger.com.