The Food Labeling Fight Continues

After failing to pass a farm bill and a one-year extension, the House finally approved the Livestock Ag Disaster Assistance Act yesterday. While we were waiting to see what, if anything, the House would do to address the drought damage, we couldn't help but notice that the food industry was quietly keeping itself busy this week by squabbling over labeling practices.

General Mills is on the defensive as outraged California mothers sue the company over its use of the word "natural" — while pizza companies continue to band together, hoping to avoid calorie label mandates required by the FDA.

Read on to see how the fights are playing out:

Nature Valley vs. Two California mothers

Last October, Food Republic asked: "Is natural a marketing scheme?". This week, two California mothers asking the same question sued General Mills under California law for false advertising and anticompetitiveness.

The women targeted the company's Nature Valley products, whose boxes are splashed with the terms "nature" and "100% natural" despite containing three processed ingredients. The moms are not alone in their assumption that a "natural" label indicates healthy ingredients. According to the Chicago Tribune, a study conducted in 2009 found that most consumers think "natural" is a more trustworthy label than "organic." In fact, the USDA only has strict definitions for "natural" when applied to meat and poultry, whereas the term "organic" is heavily regulated for all products.

Beyond the claims on the box, a recent Nature Valley commercial depicts a couple eating the brand's Granola Thins in the middle of a field with a voiceover that tells us, "Nature approves." Nature approves of high fructose corn syrup, high maltose corn syrup and maltodextrin? These mothers don't think so.

Pizza companies vs. the FDA

It comes as no surprise that fast food chains are reluctant to post calorie labels on their menus, but no group is more upset than the American Pizza Community (yes, this exists). TAPC argues that pizza joints should be exempt form posting calorie counts due to the millions of pizza topping combinations available to a customer. The fight against calorie labels is old news for chains in New York City, which have dealt with calorie postings since 2008. But the recent passage of the Affordable Care Act will make the labeling a national mandate (and headache) for any chain with more than 20 locations.

While TAPC's toppings argument is amusing, the FDA isn't asking pizza chains to post labels for every conceivable combination, just the items that will be posted on their menu boards. Nonetheless, as Dr. Marion Nestle points out, TAPC's lobbying efforts may succeed in weakening the menu labeling bill, leaving us to wonder just how many hundreds of calories went into that Domino's slice.

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