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Introduction

WHY A FOOD LABELING WEBSITE?
The purpose of this website is to provide consumers like you with information to help you navigate food labels so that you may make informed food choices about the products you buy. In fact, that is the very reason for food labeling laws: to provide consumers with information so that they may make informed choices about what they purchase and consume. Unfortunately, food labels and what they mean are not straight forward. This site explains what the most common statements on food labels mean, what information must be disclosed as opposed to what information can be voluntarily included, and finally, what information is not included on food labels.

Walk into your kitchen, pick up any food product in your pantry, and look at the label—back and front. What comes to mind as you read through the information? Do you see any of the following statements: low-fat, all natural, GMO free, vegetarian fed, no trans fat, organic, or free-range? Do you know what these statements mean? Is there any information about the product that you wanted to know but were unable to find on the label? Do you know what information the manufacturer was required to disclose to you? Do you know what information the manufacturer included voluntarily in an attempt to convince you to purchase the product and whether those statements are accurate? If you don’t know the answer to some, or even all of these questions, then you certainly are not alone.

Food labels have become increasingly cluttered with confusing statements, claims, and images which can make any consumer wonder what it all means, if anything. Understanding food labels is important because they affect our purchasing decisions. Labels are a manufacturer’s single most effective way to communicate directly with the consumer at the point of purchase. The information included on them is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA)1. The purpose of the law and the provisions addressing labeling were to ensure that consumers wouldn’t be misled or confused when purchasing food. However, whether they realize it or not, consumers typically make purchasing decisions at the store based on the content of the food label, and those labels have become increasingly more difficult to understand. Often, what the manufacturer says on a label and what a consumer thinks the manufacturer is saying are two very different things. Certain words, phrases, and images are used by manufactures to trigger certain opinions in the consumer about the product. Unless consumers know exactly what these words, phrases, and images mean, it becomes impossible to make informed choices.

HOW TO USE THIS WEBSITE

In creating this website, we have struck a balance between making food labeling information more accessible to consumers while maintaining a level of detail that is needed for accuracy.

Here are our suggestions for making the most of the information on this site: First, read Food Labeling Basics” to gain a basic understanding of food labeling. Second, peruse our interactive pages, which let you click on the example box covers and labels to learn what specific labels mean (and don’t mean) and whether they are required by law or voluntary.

Third, if you would like more in depth information related to labeling requirements, the footnotes provide additional information, including links to relevant statutes and regulations.

We are constantly improving this public resource. Please let us know what you think of “Your Right to Know: Understanding Food Labeling” by sending us an email at CAFS@vermontlaw.edu. Additionally, if you have questions about your food labels, please send them to us and we will incorporate them in a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section on the site.