Label Laws: Students Look at the Fine Print to Identify Misleading Products

UCLA Law students took to the aisles of local supermarkets as part of the Introduction to Food Law and Policy class in Spring 2018, looking to identify misleadingly labeled products and contribute to a Food and Drug Administration initiative to reduce diet-related health problems.

The class was taught by Resnick Center Executive Director Michael Roberts and directed on the project by Laura MacCleery, policy director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). The 28 second- and third-year students in the class reviewed a briefing paper by MacCleery, went to the grocery store and documented problem labels. Students then researched the federal regulations, Food and Drug Administration guidance, and case law; drafted papers to assess the labeling issues; and made recommendations for more accurate and transparent labeling.

The student research became part of MacCleery's presentation at an FDA meeting in July 2018 concerning the agency's proposals for a Nutrition Innovation Strategy (NIS). The NIS is a promising host of FDA initiatives that connect labeling reforms to the prevention of diet-related disease. The student papers and product images also were used in written comments that CSPI submitted to the FDA at the end of August 2018.

Said MacCleery, "The collaboration of the UCLA food law program with CSPI produced a timely body of analysis about how consumers are misled by food labels in the marketplace, often in ways that create misperceptions about how healthy a food may be. The FDA has teed up a wide-ranging initiative on the topic, and so the students were able to make a real contribution to the policy questions being raised on the federal level."