Background

Since the early 1900s, the Federal Government has been providing food and nutrition guidance to Americans. The report, America's Eating Habits: Changes and Consequences, discusses the history of Federal dietary recommendations, the public's awareness of these recommendations, and the influence of information channels, such as advertising, health claims, and nutritional knowledge on dietary outcomes. See:

America's Eating Habits: Changes and Consequences

Since 1980, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans has provided science-based guidance on what Americans can and should consume to have a healthy and active life. Published every five years in partnership with the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, the most recent version was released in 2015. The MyPlate program illustrates how to implement these guidelines.

Other nutritional education programs, such as SNAP-ED (formerly the Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program), are designed to interpret the Dietary Guidelines and provide suggestions for implementation to specific population groups.

The 1990 Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) required standardization of the health and nutritional information provided to consumers by food manufacturers on food packages. The Food and Drug Administration developed the Nutrition Facts Label (NFL) that food manufacturers had to place on their products in order to comply with the law. At the same time, new rules were imposed on voluntary health claims, standardizing which foods could or could not add various labels on their packaging. In 2010, the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) required that a Nutrition Facts Label be placed on raw meat and poultry products. The NFL has been updated, and changes will take effect in July 2018.

In contrast, front-of-package labels convey a wide variety of information. Some describe how a product was grown, raised, harvested, processed, or packaged (for example, raised without antibiotics). Other labels describe specific characteristics internal to the product, such as color, taste, quality, or nutritional content (for example, nutrition- and health-related claims such as low-fat). Still others describe credence attributes, which cannot be seen, felt, or experienced by consumers (such as country of origin).

Some claims are mandatorycountry-of-origin labels are required for some foods, but most are used voluntarily, under varying degrees of government involvement. For example, food producers can label their products as organic if their production practices are certified as meeting USDA’s comprehensive regulatory requirements for environmental stewardship. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates which nutrition- and health-related claims can be made. Food can be labeled as natural as long the producer asserts that the food was minimally processed and does not contain artificial ingredients. Some claims, such as made without genetically-engineered ingredients, are not regulated.