Consumer groups fight delay in food labeling

April 10, 1992|By Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO -- A one-year delay in meeting the most comprehensive food labeling regulations in U.S. history would cause 10,000 cases of cancer and heart disease, with 3,000 ending in death, over the next 20 years, two consumer advocacy groups charge.

Additionally, the public health costs of delaying proposed federal regulations one year to May 8, 1994, could range from $2.8 billion to $11.7 billion, according to a report sponsored by the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Consumer Federation of America.

The two advocacy groups unveiled the report yesterday in part because of the Department of Agriculture's decision two weeks ago to delay enforcing its rules for thousands of meat and poultry products until 1994. The Food and Drug Administration, which oversees labeling for all other foods, is expected to make a decision this summer.

The two agencies came out with the proposals last November amid much hoopla, and since then the food industry has pushed for a delay, arguing that the packaging industry doesn't have the capacity to modify 300,000 labels by the May 1993 deadline.

The proposals call for stricter requirements for using such popular health claims as "low-cholesterol," "low-fat" and "low-calorie" and require labels that allow consumers to tell at a glance the level of fat, sodium, calories, cholesterol and fiber in nearly every food on supermarket shelves.

The author of the report, Dr. Mark N. Cooper, based his conclusions in part on the same formulations the FDA used in November. At that time, the agency said as many as 39,000 new cases of cancer and heart disease could be avoided because consumers would be making wiser eating decisions.

But the FDA's estimates are too conservative, Dr. Cooper said.

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