Process labeling Pathway to transparency?


Steve Armstrong
Independent Advisor, Food Law & Regulation, EAS Consulting Group, Chief Food Law Counsel, Campbell Soup (retired)


Food manufacturers are increasingly turning to “Process Labeling” to describe how their products were grown, prepared and packaged, and from where they originated. This kind of labeling responds to consumer concerns and desires for reassurance about food quality and its effect on society and the environment. Process Labeling is an important tool for food companies seeking “transparency,” i.e., a greater sharing of information about their products, activities and policies. Process Labeling can present challenges in claims substantiation. Such labeling claims require clear, well-established standards and strict oversight and constant monitoring of supply chains to ensure accuracy. Even if adequately substantiated from a sourcing perspective, Process Labeling claims can be misleading if they improperly suggest that a product is safer or healthier just because a certain process was followed


More and more, consumers today are looking for foods that reflect their values and concerns. In response to this trend, manufacturers are increasingly turning to “Process Labeling” to convey that they share consumer concerns about the ways food is made, its origin and effects on the environment. This essay will examine why this kind of labeling is gaining in popularity, as well as the challenges that it presents to manufacturers in assuring that such claims, as presented in the context of labeling, are truthful, non-misleading and have adequate substantiation.


A thirty-year old U.S. federal court opinion that is well known to students of food law holds that in the absence of a detailed, Congressionally mandated definition, courts and regulators should follow the common sense understanding of “food” as an article that delivers “taste, aroma and nutrition” (1). In the 21st century, however, food not only nourishes and satisfies, it also frequently makes a statement -- about how it was made, where it came from and how the earth and its inhabitants were treated al ...