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Consumer Goods Forum Announces Global Initiative to Standardize Date Labels

The Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) is thrilled that the Consumer Goods Forum, a network of 400 of the largest food and consumer goods companies worldwide, has adopted a new Call to Action asking food retailers and producers around the globe to simplify and standardize date labeling language on food products.

The announcement was made on September 20 at an event held by Champions 12.3, a coalition of executives from businesses, governments, and other institutions, dedicated to working towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. These goals include reducing per capita global food waste at the consumer and retail level by 50% by 2030.

This Call to Action asks food retailers and producers to reduce food waste by using only one date label at a time on food products: either a safety date, indicated by the language “use by,” on perishable items, or a quality indicator, using the language “best if used by,” on other food products. According to a national survey published by FLPC, the National Consumers League, and the John Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, “best if used by,” is the phrase most easily understood by consumers as an indicator of quality, while “use by,” is one of two phrases most easily understood by consumers as an indicator of food safety. The global Call to Action notes that the exact language can be tailored to regional contexts where necessary. It also asks companies to partner with nonprofits and government organizations to educate consumers about the meaning of date labels.

This Call to Action follows the recommendations that FLPC has advocated for the past several years and builds on existing efforts to standardize date labels in the United States and other countries. In recent years, FLPC has worked with members of Congress on legislation to reform the expiration date system, and has provided presentations and education to advocates, government agencies, and food industry leaders that are working to reform the expiration date system through both policy avenues and voluntary initiatives. As a direct result of FLPC’s work, in February 2017, the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association and the Food Marketing Institute, the two largest food industry trade groups, announced the creation of a voluntary national standard for date label language, asking industry to use “BEST if used by” labels for quality and “USE by” labels for safety. The Consumer Goods Forum’s Call to Action expands on this national initiative and represents an important new step to combat global food waste.

FLPC commends the Consumer Goods Forum for its leadership in encouraging retailers and producers worldwide to adopt standard date labeling language. This effort will help to reduce consumer confusion and food waste across the globe.

Learn more about the Consumer Goods Forum call to action here.


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