HomeUS lags behind in mandating FDA-required info on food labels sold in...

US lags behind in mandating FDA-required info on food labels sold in online grocery stores

Published on

Nutrition details, ingredient listings, and allergens—all FDA-required details on food labels—are frequently missing when shoppers buy food online.

According to a new study by researchers from the NYU School of Global Public Health and Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, online food retailers do not consistently display nutrition information on their websites, and US laws lag behind in mandating the same labeling required for foods sold in brick-and-mortar stores.

“Information required to be provided to consumers in conventional grocery stores is not being uniformly provided online—in fact, it only appears on roughly a third of the online grocery items we surveyed,” says Jennifer Pomeranz, lead author of the study.

“Our study shows that the online food shopping environment today is a bit of a ‘Wild West,’ with incomplete and inconsistent provision of required nutrition information to consumers,” adds Dariush Mozaffarian, the study’s senior author.

Before COVID-19, online grocery buying was fast-rising, but the outbreak has drastically increased its use. Online grocery sales in the United States tripled from 3.4 percent to 10.2 percent between 2019 and 2020, and are expected to reach 21.5 percent of total sales by 2025.

In fact, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) launched a pilot program in 2019 that allows Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients to buy food online.

The rapid expansion of online grocery shopping, on the other hand, has outpaced regulatory attention to information on items sold online. While US law mandates the inclusion of nutrition facts, allergen information, and ingredient lists on physical food packaging, these laws do not yet apply to online sellers. As a result, online grocery buyers may not have access to critical health and safety information. 

To have a better understanding of the landscape of what information shows with online groceries, the researchers examined 10 major products from nine large online grocery stores to see what information is displayed. They concentrated on bread, cereals, and drinks—packaged items that must include a standardized information panel that includes nutrition facts, a list of ingredients, common food allergies, and, in the case of fruit drinks, the percent juice. The researchers also looked at the legal authority and constraints of the federal government in terms of compelling online food vendors to give nutrition information.

They discovered that just 36.5 percent of the time, this information was provided and legible across all items and sellers. Potential allergies were only mentioned on 11.4 percent of products, while nutrition facts and ingredient lists were only available approximately half of the time (45.7 percent and 54.2 percent , respectively). On the other hand, health and nutrition-related claims like “low sodium” were more prominent on online product images, appearing on 63.5 percent of them.

“Our findings highlight the current failure of both regulations and industry practice to provide a consistent environment in which online consumers can access information that is required in conventional stores,” says study author Sean Cash.

“With the expectation that online grocery sales could top $100 billion for 2021, the requirements to provide consumers with information need to keep up with the evolving marketplace.”

The researchers then looked at the legal authority and constraints of the federal government in terms of compelling online food retailers to give nutrition information. They identified three federal agencies with current regulatory control over food labeling (the FDA), online sales and advertising (the Federal Trade Commission, or FTC), and SNAP retailers (the USDA). The researchers come to the conclusion that these agencies’ existing powers can be used to solve labeling issues in the online food retail context.

“The federal government can and should act to require that online food retailers disclose required nutrition and allergen information to support consumer health and informed decision-making,” concludes Pomeranz.

According to the researchers, failing to regularly provide this information on food goods may pose a risk to people who rely on it, such as in the case of allergies, sodium, or sugar.

“Labeling requirements are intended to protect consumers who are largely unable to protect themselves. This is even more salient for online sales where consumers cannot directly inspect products,” says Pomeranz. “At a minimum, the entire required nutritional information panel should be made visible and legible for consumers shopping for their groceries online.”

Source: 10.1017/S1368980021004638

Image Credit: Getty

You were reading: US lags behind in mandating FDA-required info on food labels sold in online grocery stores

Latest articles

Does This Mean We Stopped Being Animal and Started Being Human Due to ‘Copy Paste’ Errors?

A Surprise Finding About Ancestral Genes In Animals Could Make You Rethink The Roles...

The One Lifestyle Choice That Could Reduce Your Heart Disease Risk By More Than 22%

New Research Reveals How To Reduce Stress-related Brain Activity And Improve Heart Health Recent studies...

Aging: This Is What Happens Inside Your Body Right After Exercise

The concept of reversing aging, once relegated to the realm of science fiction, has...

Immune-Boosting Drink that Mimics Fasting to Reduce Fat – Scientists ‘Were Surprised’ By New Findings

It triggers a 'fasting-like' state In a recent study, scientists discovered that the microbes found in...

More like this

Does This Mean We Stopped Being Animal and Started Being Human Due to ‘Copy Paste’ Errors?

A Surprise Finding About Ancestral Genes In Animals Could Make You Rethink The Roles...

The One Lifestyle Choice That Could Reduce Your Heart Disease Risk By More Than 22%

New Research Reveals How To Reduce Stress-related Brain Activity And Improve Heart Health Recent studies...

Aging: This Is What Happens Inside Your Body Right After Exercise

The concept of reversing aging, once relegated to the realm of science fiction, has...