Government Regulation of Product Data on Web Sites and Marketplaces

From the FDA’s Web Site re: Regulations:

"The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is requesting information to help empower consumers with accurate, informative, and accessible food labeling. The purpose of this request is to obtain current information on the content, format, and accuracy of food label information that is presented to consumers through online grocery shopping platforms. We intend to use the information submitted in response to this notice to help improve consumer access to consistent and accurate nutrition, ingredient, and allergen information for packaged foods sold through e-commerce.

As “accuracy of food label information” is of significant importance to me, as a Data Provider, I responded to their Request. I am sharing it here, for the benefit of those in this Community, as it highlights problems that currently exist, and NEED to be addressed.

At the present time, more than One Hundred Million (100M) Americans are afflicted with Food Allergies (Wheat, Peanut, Soy, etc.), Chronic Medical Conditions (Diabetes, Heart Disease, etc.), or Food Related Diseases (Celiac Disease, Lactose Intolerance, etc.).

So, quite obviously, Consumers need: “accurate, informative, and accessible food labeling”.

The question is not so much HOW DO THEY OBTAIN IT, but rather, WHO is responsible for MAINTAINING IT.

I am one of five Data Providers, in the World, that maintains Fully Attributed Item Data, including the FDA Nutrition Fact Panel, Ingredients, Allergens, Warnings, and more.

And I am the first to admit that, with more than 350,000 Food Records, and 125,000 Spirits Records, I don’t have every U.P.C. “known to man” - no one can.

So, WHY is there no ONE complete Data Source? Because the U.P.C. System is voluntary; there is NO requirement that a Food or Beverage or Spirits Product have a U.P.C.

As such, my Database Business, like that of the four others, is ELECTIVE. There is NO requirement that our Businesses exist.

And, each of the FIVE of us, maintains different Levels of Data, based on our Client Needs and Business Operations.

Who DOES require a U.P.C.?

The Supply Chain - the Business Linkage and Communication between Manufacturers, Distributors, Retailers, Aggregators, and Analytics Firms.

However, those IN the Supply Chain may or may not exchange an accurate U.P.C., or accurate Product Information.

There are Data Synchronization Systems that allow those in the Supply Chain to Publish Data to a Data Pool; but, with various “parts” of the Supply Chain requiring various “parts” of Product Data, there is NO, ONE, CONSISTENT, vehicle for Maintaining Item Data.

Now, couple this with the “Short Attention Span Theater” Mindset of the average Shopper, who prefers to look at Front of Package Label Claims, like Low Fat, High Potassium, etc.

Question - WHO decides on these Package Label Claims, these Tags, these Attributes, etc.?

Various efforts over the past years have failed, and in some cases, spectacularly.

Anyone remember Pepsi Smart Spot, Fit-Pick, Nutri-Facts, Pulse, TDCC, or NuVal?

All were attempts at Food Rating Systems, Food Guidelines, Shelf Tags, Attributes, and more. And all are now gone.

The obvious concern, with ANY of these “Label Claims”, in addition to concerns about administration of Standards and References, is - WHERE IS THE DATA to support these Systems?

And if ALL OF THE ABOVE were not enough, what about FALCPA Compliance?

In 2004, the FDA passed the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (or FALCPA).

This is the Act that requires Food and Beverage Items, to both identify the PRESENCE of Food Allergens (Contains Wheat, Soy, etc.) and to IDENTIFY Cross Contamination (Made in a Facility that also processes Wheat, Peanuts, etc.).

However, there is no FALCPA “Police”, so, an Item can contain one of the Nine Major Allergens (in 2022 there were Eight, as of 2023 there are Nine), and NOT provide the Statement. Or, the Statement might identify one or two Allergens, but not ALL of them.

And we haven’t even touched on Endorsements (USDA Inspected, OU-P Kosher, IFANCA Halal, etc.) or Base Health Claims (Gluten Free, Vegan Friendly, Non GMO Project, etc.).

Bottom Line - Data and Apps and Web Services and API’s, and other “vehicles” DO exist to provide this information (“nutrition, ingredient, and allergen”).

But, with only FIVE FIRMS providing this Information, and with no Cooperation between said Firms, and no Consistency between said Firms Data Sets - not to mention lack of FALCPA Compliance…AND a Supply Chain that does NOT do a good job with Data, how can there possibly be a “single version of truth”.

Now, based on the Comment Request:

“…obtain current information on the content, format, and accuracy of food label information…”, I have attached a Sample Data File and Validation steps.

and this Comment:

“We intend to use the information submitted in response to this notice to help improve consumer access to consistent and accurate nutrition, ingredient, and allergen information for packaged foods sold through e-commerce.”

Might I suggest that you approach this issue in SEVEN Parts:

1 - Data Field Standards from the USDA, the FDA, and other Governmental Regulatory Agencies

2 - Enforcement of FALCPA Statements

3 - Creation of THE Database, obtained via Licensed Data from Data Providers

4 - Creation of an Infrastructure to provide for Additions, Changes, etc. TO the Database

5 - Creation of a Global Data Pool that E-Commerce Systems, Marketplaces, Retailers, and others, can access

6 - Creation of a Scheduled Data Update FROM Manufacturers (insuring both Accuracy and New Product Introductions)

7 - Creation of a Technical Support Desk to manage “all of the above”

And once THIS is done, might I suggest a method of “Certification”…

This could consist of Two Parts:

1 - A Government Approved Logo, etc. that could be assigned to:

a) Manufacturers who contribute to the Data Pool (Step 5 above)
b) Marketplaces that validate Manufacturer Compliance

(This is similar to the Verified by GS1 Effort, to insure valid Company Prefixes)

2 - A QR Code that provides a Digital Link to the "“nutrition, ingredient, and allergen information”

(This is similar to what Smart Label provides, but, would have the weight of the U.S. Government behind the initiative, thus insuring maximum compliance and adoption)

This QR Code could be developed with an eye towards adoption via the new 2D Barcode replacement for the 1D U.P.C. (and EAN), as part of GS1’s Sunrise 2027 Initiative.

And finally, I have lived by a Simple Motto - “Ninety percent of being smart is knowing what you’re dumb at”.

In other words, if ANY of what I have said, and what others have said / will say, it might make sense to Contract this work to someone who sees Item Data like Neo sees the Matrix (pardon the shameless plug).

Gregg London


In the EU, there an emerging requirement for data of similar complexity covering the provenance and sustainability of apparel/footwear. (Not sure if it applies to other non-food items)

France is leading on this; the originator of the product needs to make data available via the website that is offering product for sale (or linked back from labels on product) and needs to keep the consumer facing data available 2 years after the product goes off sale.

In some cases this will be correlated to Retailer internal SKU number or internal GTIN-like barcode, but in others (especially branded items) it is likely to need to link to a proper GTIN/GS1 barcode. And product originators will need to share that with companies selling their product (e.g. marketplaces, retailers selling product as a concession line)

1 Like

The EU has proposed Label Guidelines for Wine, and the UK is working on Guidelines for the definition of Low (between 0.5% and 1.5%) and No (less than 0.5%) Alcohol. I anticipate similar efforts here in the States.