Half a croissant, on a plate, with a sign in front of it saying '50c'
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Universal food labeling

Make life easier for minority groups
  (+1, -2)
(+1, -2)
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I'm a vegetarian, and sometimes I buy something only to find out I can't eat it. And I'm probably missing some animal derivatives on the labels as well.

There are several other groups for which different foodstuffs can cause problems, some religions have specific codes and some people suffer allergies which may cause death on eating a minute amount of something.

I propose that all foodstuffs, drinks and medicines, lickable stamps etc. be legally required to have a set of standard indicators on the front for the ingredients that may cause problems.

These symbols would be standard monochrome icons (so could be legally printed in any visually discernable colour) but of at least a minimum size.

The symbols I can think of right now would specify in pictoral way:
Not suitable for vegetarians
Not suitable for vegans
Not suitable for (eg peanut) allergy sufferers
Not suitable for Moslems (contains pork)

These symbols would also be required in restaurant menus and all advertisements in any media. OK, so radio would have to use standard phrases instead. Penalties for failure to do so would be punitive, and for example deaths from peanut allergy would be in addition manslaughter (or murder). These would of course propagate to the original mis-labeller.

I suppose there would also have to be a requirement for people giving a meal to check their guests for any nutritional requirements explicitly.

Then instead of having to carefully read the back of everything we buy, we could just avoid the things with the symbol(s) we don't want on. And everybody would be happy.

Loris, Aug 20 2002

(?) Kosher Q&A http://www.ou.org/k...r/kosherqa/food.htm
Non-kosher soda? Yep. "Soda may contain a flavor enhancer called castorium which is extracted from beavers." [waugsqueke, Aug 20 2002]

Rapid Goober Detector http://www.halfbake...20Goober_20Detector
Bristolz idea for a peanut detector. I don't think this should be necessary. [Loris, Aug 21 2002, last modified Oct 04 2004]

(?) US FDA Nutrition Facts panels http://vm.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/foodlab.html
Stuff about 'em. [waugsqueke, Aug 21 2002]

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       This exists to an extent. The form is reversed, however, indicating food that is acceptable.   

       The Orthodox Union of Rabbis allows its symbol (a circled U) to be printed on the labels of food products manufactured in accordance with Jewish dietary laws. I've also seen a "K" symbol used, but I'm not sure who grants use of it.
waugsqueke, Aug 20 2002

       Re [waugs]'s link, I can't help wondering exactly what is meant by "extracted from beavers".
angel, Aug 21 2002

       "This exists to an extent. The form is reversed, however, indicating food that is acceptable."   

       The problem is that it doesn't exist to completion. And food, drink etc may contain things you never even considered. I find this especially true of desserts. Imagine you are vegetarian. Think you can buy some yoghurt? Well, maybe you'll be OK, but maybe not. And if something doesn't have some random vegetarian symbol, and you don't recognise an ingredient like, say, pork gelatine on the back, can you buy it?
If you go to a restaurant and none of the desserts have some symbol next to them, can you eat any of them? You probably can, but which ones?

       I reversed the meaning of the symbols so that less would be required for most (or all) products. Rather than having the 40 allergens (I saw someone mention this number on the HB), and dozens of different religious requirements, you'd just need the few it was unacceptable for. Since manufacturers complain about the space dedicated to such warnings, this is an important consideration. Especially since smaller products are likely contain on average less ingredients and so be suitable for more people.   

       It is of course harder to prove the absence of something than the presence, so I suppose there is a need for a container symbol into which the warning symbols can go, and which is always present, even if empty.   

       Nevertheless, the important part of this idea is that there are standard symbols which are always present, not the direction which they point. Blissmiss, are you saying the idea is baked in your area? If so, is this true even for items like lickable envelopes? Do all clothes containing leather indicate this using the same symbol?   

       I suppose that since some groups are subsets of others (All vegans are vegetarian, for example) these groups could have a modified symbol. (A stylised 'V' in a box, rather than just a V, say)   

       I'd like to know why whoever thought this was a bad idea thought it was so bad. Too serious? (Heh, the whimsical idea I posted was taken too seriously.)
Loris, Aug 21 2002

       A possible disadvantage is that you're asking manufacturers to advise some of their potential customers not to buy the product. Also there are some people who consider themselves to be vegetarians ( for example), but eat fish and chicken. I imagine that there are similar degrees of orthodoxy in many diet-restricted groups.
angel, Aug 21 2002

       //I'm a vegetarian, and sometimes I buy something only to find out I can't eat it.//
*Erk* Does this include "pretend" burgers?
thumbwax, Aug 21 2002

       Heh, Angel, these people remind me of a very funny Alexi Sayle talk. This ended with him saying:
"Well I don't eat human flesh, so I'm *basically* a vegetarian."
I believe these words should retain their technical meaning. Once on enquiring about the vegetarian option I was told "Well, we've got fish...". The more people who think vegetarians can compromise in this way, the harder it gets for people to be vegetarian.

       A modification could be devised which would indicate the use of fish, poultry, cow, sheep, pig, whale or whatever, to keep these people happy. (Probably as text associated with one of the symbols.) This might help for the religious restrictions and allergy sufferers as well. Bit more complicated though, so I'd retain the encompassing vegetarian/vegan symbols.   

       Thumbwax - I don't think I've ever bought a product from the supermarket claiming to be vegetarian which wasn't (although I wouldn't necessarily know). However, I have bought 'vegetarian' food in restaurants which turned out to have chicken in it. More commonly I buy something like drinking chocolate, or pasta or something which has an animal derivative in like gelatine.
Loris, Aug 21 2002

       angel makes an excellent point. The reason why those symbols that are in use now indicate acceptability is because it is an additional selling point - "drink me, I'm kosher". You're asking manufacturers to display symbols saying "why you shouldn't buy this". They'll never go along with that.   

       He also points out that there are many different types of vegetarians. You might be surprised to learn that the most common type in the US is the pesco-pollo vegetarian.   

       There are so many types that such a system would be virtually impossible to implement. You'd need to have a symbol indicating that the ingredients have been heated to temperatures exceeding 108 degrees during the manufacturing process, for example.   

       A great article in Time about a month ago is quite enlightening. I recommend it.   

       I have a niece who won't eat anything that has a face.
waugsqueke, Aug 21 2002

       Hm. Serve her jellyfish.
DrCurry, Aug 21 2002

       Or 27 pounds of whelks.
angel, Aug 21 2002

       Or a bureaucrat.
-alx, Aug 21 2002

       Many of those have two faces.
waugsqueke, Aug 21 2002

       So you might be able to persuade your niece to eat bureaucrats?   

       Although I imagine it is less regulated in the USA, in the UK at least it is a legal requirement for all ingredients to be indicated on food products. So it is hardly a great leap to change the rules a little bit, this happens all the time here. What you've got to understand is that this is for the consumers benefit. If it is a law then the manufacturers don't get a choice, the question is whether it is a reasonable requirement (I think it is).   

       You see there are currently a lot of vegetarians in the UK. Many of them will be unknowingly buying (and eating) products with meat in. So this requirement would allow them to exert consumer choice and avoid products which have, for example, beaver-juice in.   

       It really wouldn't be hard for pesco-pollo vegetarians (nice term) to work out that "Unsuitable for vegetarians - contains fish and poutry" meant that they could eat it.   

       Key would be a government advertising campaign as the system was introduced, showing each of the symbols along with their definition.   

       I'm not sure where the 108 degrees requirement comes in - is it religious or something? Must make it hard to eat fruit.
The thing is, most products would probably only have a few symbols on display (each possibly with a bit of additional text - like "[allergen logo] nut traces"). And individual people would only be looking for the symbols which related to them.

       Don't think this is just a moral issue. There are health reasons as well. For example, this would enable people with nut allergies to eat in restaurants without the risk of dying (People die like this all the time.) I decided to post this grand unified labeling rule after reading an idea of Bristolz about a food sampler to detect nuts. (I'll try and link to it). That is a nice idea, but probably impractical, since the amount of nut required to trigger a reaction can be vanishingly small. So the obvious thing is to take the technologically and practically easier way, and just label stuff to start with.
Loris, Aug 21 2002

       The US Food and Drug Administration has fairly strict rules about ingredients listings. And it's not just limited to food. You'll find ingredients listings on shampoo, of all things.   

       Food products also must display a "Nutrition Facts" panel somewhere on the packaging. (C'est un link... regardez.) Even bottled water requires them.   

       Packaged food will always give indications about such things as nut ingredients. Lawyers for the companies will see to it. "May contain nuts" is even an HB tagline.   

       There is a mindset of "ultra-orthodox" vegans, if you like, who are so fundamental that they do not eat food that has been cooked. They define 'cooked' as heated beyond a certain temperature. I believe it's 108 degrees, but I don't have the article here.
waugsqueke, Aug 21 2002

       UK food labelling requirements are not quite as straightforward as they may seem. The ingredients of bread might be "flour, flour improver (possibly specified), etc" but a bag of flour will have no ingredients listed, even though it contains the same flour improver which is mandatorily listed on the bread wrapper. A processed meat (salami is a fine example) may contain "not less than 100% meat", which, to my way of thinking, means that there's nothing in it except meat, but the ingredients also include salt, spices, water and smoke. (Yes, really.)
angel, Aug 22 2002

       This is a classical example of a choice that you have in many different user interfaces. Either you declare yourself a member of a group and are slotted into some sort of group preference ("Wizards" in software design, "The Women's Channel", "Are you a Business User / Home Office User / Private User" on commercial websites), or you do your own determination based on domain knowledge that can be difficult to acquire.   

       I don't like the "slotted" interfaces; I think they restrict choice and development. True, they make things easier for those whose preferences have been exactly expressed, but they discourage divergence from these fixed sets. In something as deeply cultural and changing as food preferences, variation and flexibility are a good thing. If I want to come up with my own definition of kosher for myself, I need to know why, not just that, it was pronounced kosher.
jutta, Aug 23 2002

       Go Loris! I had a similar thinking a few months back... that there should be a standard icon-based ID system on our food products. I also imagined the icons might indicate: (1) responsible packaging, (2) no animals harmed, (3) socially responsible business practices, (4) Organic (as per USDA).   

       Yes, these will all be imperfect, same as "dolphin safe" tuna (a circus of sorts). But it's a step in the right direction. Myself; I have a strict personal diet. I only eat vegetarians.
musicator, Aug 19 2003

       In that case then musicator, if you ever come round my house for a meal I'll prepare you some home-made black pudding.
Loris, Sep 13 2006

       //So this requirement would allow them to exert consumer choice and avoid products which have, for example, beaver-juice in.// Like [benfrost]'s 'Vagina Jam'? ;-)   

       //home-made black pudding// There was a woman who did this and wrote an article about it - have you read it? If not, I'll try to dig up a link. (I found it in an anthology I read for my thesis on the ethics of vegetarianism.)   

       As a vegetarian myself, I'm not overly concerned about ingredients lists giving insufficient clues. I've learnt a lot about ingredients as a result, and it also spurs me to eat less processed food.   

       If there has to be mandatory labelling, I think it'd be better as a positive system ("Suitable for vegetarians"), since otherwise some companies would probably just cover their asses, in the "May contain traces of nuts" or "Dry-clean only" way, by adding "May contain traces of animals", limiting the choices available. Mind you, even "Suitable for vegetarians" is a bit misleading, as it might subconsciously encourage the idea that only weird veggie types would eat that, no-one else...
imaginality, Sep 14 2006

       This has started to become baked in recent years, kind of. After the ingredients list, now there's usually a line in bold type listing any common allergens. If your food restriction is a common one, then it's a lot easire to glance at that line than to carefully read the full ingredients list.
wiml, Sep 14 2006


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