Do We Need a Better Food Label?

A project at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Journalism has taken on the task of designing a better food label, asking for ideas to replace the current black and white Nutrition Facts label that appears on every food package. The Berkeley project has generated dozens of new ideas that are likely to be considered by the United States Food and Drug Administration, which is in the process of revising the existing food label.

“There are a lot of things right with the current label, but at the same time people are confused. The question is whether a new nutrition facts label could help people make more educated decisions.’’ said Lily Mihalik, co-creator of the project and a fellow in the News21 program.

The panel of judges included the food writer Michael Pollan; the consumer health activist Michael Jacobson; Dr. Robert Lustig, a San Francisco pediatrician; Laura Brunow Miner, a San Francisco graphic designer; and Andrew Vande Moere, a Belgian design professor.

The winning entry, from a San Francisco visual designer, Renee Walker, uses colorful boxes to depict the relative proportion of ingredients in a product. The second place design, from Joey Brunelle, replaces serving size calories with total calories per package or bottle. A green, yellow and red color-coding system denotes reasonable, questionable or unhealthy amounts of carbohydrates or fat. Two designs, from Bradley Mu, a freelance Web designer and recent interactive media graduate from Elon University in North Carolina, and Dylan Brown, creative director at Pixar Canada in Vancouver, British Columbia, tied for third place. Mr. Mu’s label mimics the traditional food label but uses color and highlights natural foods in green type and food additives in bold. It also features the glycemic index, a measure of how quickly a food increases the level of sugar in the body. The design by Mr. Brown uses color-coded letter grades to rate food ingredients, offering green A’s and B’s, yellow C’s and red D’s and F’s.

Although the judging panel has picked its favorites among the label submissions, the project is now asking members of the public to vote on their favorites. The project’s Web site, Rethink the Food Label, will take votes through midday Sunday and announce the winner next week. Visitors to the site can also view a slide show of all the submitted designs.



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