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FDA Clears Way for More Health Claims


Reading food labels just got a little more complicated thanks to a recent decision by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Beginning this fall, the FDA will accept applications from food manufacturers that would allow them to make health claims on food labels without corroborating scientific proof.

Under this new program, health claims will be graded according to the level of science that exists to support the claim: A for scientifically proven claims; B if the science is good but inconclusive; C for claims that have very little science to support them; and D is given to claims with little or no science behind them.

Claims rated B, C or D will be considered qualified and be allowed to appear on the food label along with a short disclaimer describing the level of proof that exists for that claim. It has not yet been determined if the grade itself will appear on the label.

Previously, the FDA has upheld a very strict standard regarding health claims made on food labels. Very few claims were allowed; for example, oatmeal manufacturers could not claim their product was heart healthy until a significant scientific consensus was reached that the fiber in oatmeal has a positive effect on cholesterol levels.

According to FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan, this change was made to give Americans as much information as possible about the foods they consume.

''Americans shouldn't need a science degree to figure out how foods can fit into a healthy diet. Information should be accurate, honest and easy to understand.''

Not everyone is happy about the change. Congressman Henry Waxman, D-California, believes these new labels will cause confusion and may make all health claims meaningless even the accurate ones. Waxman was instrumental in passing a law limiting food labeling more than a decade ago and believes this new policy violates that law.

Claims expected to win a B rating by the FDA:

Eating several servings per week of salmon and other fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of heart disease
Foods made with vegetable oils are more heart healthy than those made with solid fats
Eating nuts instead of other high-fat proteins is good for the heart

Claims that could receive a B or C rating by the FDA:

Eating fiber-rich foods can help prevent colon cancer
Compounds in grapes and grape juice are good for the heart
The antioxidant lycopene, found in cooked tomato products, may prevent prostate cancer