Reading The Labels On Drugs And Food

Feb 27, 2014

Do you read the labels on food before you buy it? How about on pill bottles, supplements, and other drugs? If some Rhode Island lawmakers have their way, you could be seeing "country of origin" labels on your pharmaceuticals. But would that change your mind about taking a drug, or make you ask your doctor for a different brand?

Several state senators introduced a bill supporting "country of origin" labeling for drugs, citing fears that, because so many ingredients in our pharmaceuticals are manufactured overseas, our drugs may not be as safe as they would be were they made completely in the U.S. I'm not sure if those fears are well-founded, but I'm even more uncertain whether such labeling would give consumers information they can act on. What if there's only one brand available? Or you don't have time to research pharmaceutical supply chain safety in India or China?

In other labeling news today, the FDA released its proposed changes to the food labels we've all grown so familiar with.  As NPR's Allison Aubrey reports:

Example of the FDA's proposed new food label
Credit US Food and Drug Administration

"The most visible change is that calorie counts are bigger and bolder — to give them greater emphasis.

In addition, serving sizes start to reflect the way most of us really eat. Take, for example, ice cream. The current serving size is a half-cup. But who eats that little?

Under the proposed new label, the serving size would become 1 cup. So, when you scoop a bowl of mint chocolate chip, the calorie count that you see on the label will probably be much closer to what you're actually eating.

Another example: A 20-ounce bottle of soda would be labeled as one serving. And with that, the calorie count at the top would come closer to reality.

Another significant change: The new panel will include a separate line for added sugars.

This is aimed at helping consumers distinguish between the sugars that are naturally found in foods (such as the sugar in raisins found in cereal) from the refined sugars that food manufacturers add to their products."

Will these changes help you make better decisions about what you eat? Do you pay attention to labels?