A Historical Examination of Food Labeling Policies and Practices in the United States: Implications for Agricultural Communications
Keywords:agricultural communications, branding, food labeling, nutrition
Knowledge of agricultural practices has declined in recent years, resulting in consumers becoming uncertain of where and how their food has been produced and the marketing tactics used to promote the product. Historically, the U.S. population’s rich agricultural heritage coincided with higher levels of agricultural literacy. Some scholars, however, have maintained that U.S. culture has begun to lose touch with its agricultural foundations. More recent evidence has demonstrated that consumers acquire knowledge about their food from various media, most notably the Internet and social media. Often these sources use incorrect information and promote food and agricultural marketing trends that may not be grounded in scientific data. In response, this historical narrative analyzed a reform effort that occurred in U.S. food labeling policy and practice in the 1900s, which contributed to food labeling issues and consumer distrust in the agricultural industry. Based on the findings of this investigation, we concluded that food labels were initially intended to provide consumers with more profound knowledge of the food they purchased. However, key legislative acts such as the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act and the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act shifted the food labeling movement into a branding device to differentiate products and brands. We recommend that agricultural practitioners explore new ways to communicate their message more effectively. We also call for producers to incorporate more personal and emotional appeals when marketing agricultural products to better compete with third-party branding efforts.