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1/29/2014 - Consumers perplexed by product health claims

Food labels and front of package claims are there to help consumers make informed choices.

A recent poll reveals that consumers are often confused by common labeling found on many everyday food items sitting on grocery store shelves that attempt to promote low-calorie choices.

The survey, which was performed by Harris Interactive in October 2013, asked 2,000 adults by phone if they ever felt confused or misled when packaging on a product said, for example, "50% less sugar," when after reading the ingredients, high fructose corn syrup was listed. More than eight in 10 - 84% - said that this was an issue for them that caused some consternation.

A similar poll that asked the same question was performed in 2004. Even then, over 80% of respondents said that they thought this was false advertising.

To ameliorate the issue, the trade group that represents sugar farmers said that it's asked the Food and Drug Administration to require that any descriptions of sugar be confined specifically to sucrose so that consumers can more accurately differentiate between it and HFCS. The petition has yet to be decided.

"Food labels and front of package claims are there to help consumers make informed choices," said Andrew Briscoe, CEO of The Sugar Association. "But if the label gives consumers false or misleading statements, the FDA is doing them a disservice by allowing this to continue."

While this type of labeling may not be textbook false advertising, actual or perceived mischaracterizations of what a product contains can be grounds for litigation. Business owners insurance may help protect entrepreneurs and provide resources should these issues arise.

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