N E W Y O R K, July 27, 2001 -- Consumers who simply glance at labels before they toss food into their grocery carts may not be eating what they think they are, a consumer group says.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest, the organization that exposed the high fat content of movie popcorn and Mexican food, is targeting packaged foods that deliver artificial ingredients, rather than the real ingredients the food packaging suggests.
"Companies are trying to reposition the same old line of processed foods as nutritious and healthy by portraying wholesome ingredients on the fronts of packages, but not really putting those ingredients in any significant quantities in the box," Bruce Silverglade, CSPI's director of legal affairs, told ABCNEWS.
CSPI claims that food manufacturers are boosting their profits at consumers' expense by replacing expensive ingredients such as fruits and whole grains with food additives.
The culprits the CSPI cited include:
Aunt Jemima's frozen blueberry waffles, which contain dried apple parts dyed blue, but no blueberries.
Chex Milk and Cereal Bars, which contain no real milk, but are actually made with non-fat powdered milk, palm oil, sugar and additives. It contains more sugar and less fiber than a bowl of cereal, Silvergrade said.
Betty Crocker Stir 'n Bake Carrot Cake, which has carrot powder, but no carrots.
Stonyfield Farms Strawberry Yosqueez yogurt, which contains beet juice, rather than strawberries.
Nissin cup noodles with shrimp, which contain only zero to four tiny shrimp.
Pillsbury Blueberry Muffins, which contain artificial blueberry bits rather than blueberries.
The National Food Processors Association said in a statement Thursday that it opposes new labeling requirements and that the FDA already requires food labels with enough information for consumers to make informed choices. The trade group also said the FDA already has the authority to take action against misleading food labels.
Silvergrade said it isn't enough. The CSPI would like the FDA to get companies to portray foods accurately on the packages, and expand food labels so that ingredient labels are easier to read. Under the current loosely written government regulations, the CSPI maintains that manufactures get creative with the front of the packages, using vague words and suggestive pictures that may have little relation to what is inside the box or jar.
A grocery trade representative said the front of packages is more for advertising purposes than anything else.
"The front of the panel is more of an attention grabber for a consumer and probably used more for marketing purposes than it would be for listing ingredients or giving nutrition information," said Lisa Katic, of Grocery Manufacturers Association of America.
But consumers tend to look only at the front of packaging and ignore the nutrition labels on the back. And although the nutrition labels are more strictly regulated, they are also tougher to decipher, the CSPI argues.
CSPI tried to get the government to more strictly regulate food packaging claims in 1995, but the efforts fell flat. Six years later, food labels are just as misleading the group says.