Americans want required food labels even if they don't read them

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A majority of Americans want the U.S. government to require nutrition labels on food packaging, including people who do not read them, according to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll released as the Trump administration delays tougher new requirements.

FILE PHOTO: The Nutrition Facts label is seen on a box of Pop Tarts at a store in New York February 27, 2014. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

The government has delayed the introduction of mandatory labeling of sugars added to packaged food and use of genetically-engineered ingredients, marking a change from the Obama administration and a victory for food companies which lobbied against them as too costly and confusing for consumers.

On Friday, the Food and Drug Administration proposed giving manufacturers an extra 1-1/2 years to comply with new nutrition facts label requirements, drawing criticism from nutritionists.

The results of the poll, released on Monday, underscore that transparency is key for consumers, a fact that is becoming more apparent to food manufacturers.

Eighty-four percent of adults agreed that “the government should require nutrition information labels on all packaged food sold in grocery stores” and 64 percent wanted similar requirements for restaurants, according to the poll.

Most people wanted those labels even though relatively few said they read them. Only 13 percent said they “always” read the nutrition facts when deciding to buy a product.

Marsha Klemundt, a 67-year-old poll respondent, said she had little interest in learning more about nutrition when she shops at grocery stores or eats at restaurants. But she added that it felt good to know the government is requiring them to track what they put into food.

“We should know what we’re buying,” Klemundt said.

Poll respondents who were curious about nutrition information were mostly interested in how it could affect their waistlines. Sixty percent or more said they wanted to know about sugar, calories, salt and fat content in packaged food.

For some, it’s a matter of trying to follow a doctor’s orders, including Republicans who say they understand that other issues are a bigger priority for President Donald Trump.

The delay is a concern, said Ronald Lessard, 74, of Louisiana, who noted that he watches his intake of added sugars. “If you don’t know it’s in there, you can’t cut down.”

Less than half of those surveyed said they would be willing to pay more for foods that are organic, grass-fed or contain no added sugars or genetically-engineered ingredients. The item the majority of Americans would consider paying more for is locally-grown food, at 57 percent.

The poll was conducted online in English throughout the United States from July 8 to July 17. It included responses from 3,024 adults and has a credibility interval, a measure of accuracy, of 2 percentage points.

Reporting by Chris Prentice and Chris Kahn in New York; Editing by Paul Simao