Food labels are the main instruments when you’re trying to stay healthy: they tell us what we’re going to eat and can guide our nutritional choices. But it’s also true that labels are often thorny, confused and obtuse. So, let’s to see how to understand them and the main differences between EU and US nutrition labels.
The US nutrition labels
In the US, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for labeling: FDA decided what must be included on a packaged product’s label and what cannot be included. According to standard laws, the FDA requires on the labels:
- The name of food
- The amount of product
- The name and address of the manufacturer, packer or distributor
- The ingredients (listed in descending order)
- The presence of any of the following eight common allergens: milk, egg, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts and soybeans.
Then, there are the nutritional informations, which must include:
- Serving size
- Calories per serving size
- Calories from fat as well as the percentage of daily recommended values for fat based on a 2,000 calorie diet
- Protein, vitamin and mineral content, expressed in terms of their percentage of daily recommended values
Last year, the FDA announced a big decision: a list of major proposed changes to nutrition labels, including the font for calorie counts and a separate line for added sugars to reflect the latest scientific research about nutrition and the link between what Americans eat and the chronic diseases. It could be a great change for the transparency of food and the health of people if the FDA established a recommended daily value for sugar, but it is still unclear when labels will be updated.
The EU nutrition labels
While labels in the US have been regulated since the early 1990s, the same level of uniformity was only recently introduced in EU. Last December, the EU passed a comprehensive provision on the required content and presentation of nutrition labels, which will become mandatory in December 2016, but technically in the EU the nutrition labels are still voluntary. The provision includes minimum font size for mandatory information, a standard presentation of allergens and required nutritional information such as energy – fat- carbohydrate, sugars, protein and salt.
Key differences between US and EU nutrition labels
- In the US nutritional labels must indicate the number of servings per container, while in the EU all calorie are based on 100g or 100ml of product.
- The EU will not require the indication of the number of servings
- The US lists sodium content (measured in milligrams) on nutrition labels, while the EU lists salt content (measured in grams). It seems similar, but it is not: salt is a mineral composed primarily of sodium chloride, while sodium is a term that includes salt but can also be found in additional ingredients, such as baking soda.
- The EU requires specific information on the vegetable origin of refined oils and fats (olive oil and palm oil) which is not the case in the US.
- Maybe additives are the biggest difference: In the EU, common food additives are assigned an identifying three- or four-digit code, known as an E number. In US additive must be declared with their entire name, such as Sodium caseinate. That’s a big problem for export, because the FDA stops all products that used on the labels the E number instead of the entire name of ingredients.
This discrepancy frequently make problems not only to consumers , but also to EU companies that want to export packaged food to the US and see their product (even perfectly safe) refused by the FDA.