Omri Ben-Shahar on the Curious Battle Over the Nutrition Label

FDA Versus Michelle Obama: The Curious Battle Over The Nutrition Label

It is hard to think of a single regulation that all groups—liberals, conservatives, even anarchists—love. But there is one, and it has just been dealt a serious blow by Trump’s FDA. It is the Nutrition Facts label on food, a regulation that many consider the cornerstone of a good diet. The FDA decided this week to roll back a new regulation--a Michelle Obama legacy--that would have modernized the look of the nutrition label.

The fight over the nutrition label is a story of great irony, because—notwithstanding the adoration it receives—in its twenty-five years of existence it has not affected how people eat. The hard work that the Obama administration put to reform the nutrition label would not have made a difference. There may be good reasons to criticize the Trump FDA for sacking various Obama-era healthy eating initiatives, but the nutrition label crusade is not worth the candle.

The legend of the nutrition label is a fascinating story of regulatory hype devoid of supporting evidence. Launched a generation ago, when Americans were getting fatter, the label looked like a great idea. Give people information about the content of the food to help them make more informed and healthy eating choices. The label prominently displayed the (obsessively counted) caloric score, accompanied by measures of fat, carbs, sodium, and cholesterol. It was subsequently tweaked—less clutter, better font, more realistic “serving size”—making it one of the most familiar templates of disclosure in our society.

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