Federal Nutrition And Organic Labels Paved The Way For Single-Trait Label Claims
by Fred Kuchler, Catherine Greene, Maria Bowman, Kandice K. Marshall, John Bovay, and Lori Lynch, USDA
Posted: 2017-11-20 15:42:56 EST

Consumers have influenced the evolution of food policy in the United States for over a century. For example, USDA meat inspection laws emerged in the early part of the 20th century in response to mounting consumer concerns about the safety of meat products—concerns awakened by Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel, The Jungle. Other early USDA food labeling laws focused on grades and standards for color, size, and other food attributes that consumers can verify by looking at, buying, or eating the product. During the second half of the 20th century, consumers became interested in the “credence attributes” of food—attributes or qualities that consumers cannot easily verify on their own. For example, a new generation of environmentally conscious consumers emerged in the 1970s that was interested in foods produced in ways that were healthier for themselves and the planet.

Consumer interest in credence attributes has continued to expand during the last few decades. Larger segments of consumers care, for example, about how crops are grown and whether livestock are humanely raised. This demand is driven by considerations of personal health, animal welfare, environmental impacts, and other factors. In response, companies have added a lot of information about health and production methods to their packaging. Consumers now face a profusion of claims, including “natural,” “low-sodium,” “cage-free,” “heart healthy,” and “non-GMO” (does not contain genetically modified organisms).

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