Regulating U.S. food is a vital part of maintaining the health of consumers. Food content labels are an important part of that process. The job of regulating food labels falls on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which monitors and enforces food labeling laws.
In addition to food labels, the FDA must approve all health claims and statements on edibles, such as “low fat” or “heart healthy." The FDA regulates food labeling as part of the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act. Food labeling is required for all prepared foods, while labels for raw food, such as fruits and vegetables, are voluntary.
What Is the FDA?
The Food and Drug Administration is a branch of the Department of Health and Human Services. It is responsible for regulating and supervising food and dietary supplements, as well as other health supplies. The accuracy of food labels falls specifically under the jurisdiction of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, a department of the FDA.
Some foods and beverages are not regulated by the FDA. Animal meat--such as cow, pig or poultry--is monitored by the Department of Agriculture. Any product that contains a minimal amount of meat, however, is regulated by the FDA.
Two beverages are also not regulated by the FDA. Alcoholic beverages are controlled by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and non-bottled water by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Food Label History
There has been a steady evolution in food labels during the past two decades. In 1988, the Food and Drug Administration was officially established, and began creating and enforcing food label laws. In 1990, the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act was passed, which required all food to have nutritional information labeled on the product. In 1992, the FDA revamped the food label to list the most important nutrients in an easy-to-read format. This was done based on the latest public health research. The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, passed in 1994, classifies dietary supplements as food and therefore requires specific labeling for these products.