The Food and Drug Administration announced this week that they were seeking to update the standard nutrition label found on most food products sold in the United States. It is expected that this effort will cost the manufacturers of food products some $2 billion, as well as a couple of hundred million more for the government’s costs.
My first thought was, ‘what’s the point?’ The changes are incremental, although some of them (like using larger type for the number of calories) are obvious enhancements. But why couldn’t manufacturers make tweaks like that for themselves?
Because it’s a Federally-required label, you idiot, and it has to fit the Federally-required format. Tweaks are illegal, resulting in fines, and maybe criminal prosecution.
And why is the Federal government formatting food labels?
I don’t specifically recall. The news reports on this noted that the standard nutrition label has been around for about 20 years. What did we have before then?
Well… we had nutrition labels that generally provided the same information, perhaps not to the same detail, but covered the basics. Formats varied from one manufacturer to another, but were generally consistent (how many ways can you list calories and nutrients?).
Somehow, we survived: I don’t recall any sort of crisis that led to the FDA mandating formats for food labels. They just sort of appeared, quietly, in the 1990s.
But maybe I shouldn’t rail at this latest bureaucratic exercise. $2 billion will provide tens of thousands of jobs, and most of the cost will be covered by the private sector. And those people will spend on goods and services, creating still more jobs and stimulating growth.
* * *
Some of the reports on the new nutrition labels noted that for a cost of $2 billion, a benefit of $20 billion will accrue to consumers, or about $65 per capita.
OK: where do I go to collect my $65? Because I can’t see how a reformatted label is going to actually save me anything.