WHAT would an ideal food label look like?

By “ideal,” we are referring to the perspective of consumers – not marketers. “Right now, food labels give loads of information that are useful. However, do they tell us whether something is beneficial?,” ask columnist Mark Bittman.

What if every packaged food label would feature a color-coded bar with a 15-point scale so instantly the consumer could determine whether the product’s overall rating fell between 11 and 15 (green), 6 and 10 (yellow) or 0 and 5 (red). This alone could be enough for a fair snap decision. A visual representation of the total score: eat green-coded food freely; yellow food with restraint or consideration; and red food rarely or never. Of course you need to make your decision based on your concerns.

Calculating the score by rating three key factors, each of which comprises numerous sub-factors.

The first is “Nutrition.” This new scale is essentially a summary of the “nutrition facts” box into one easy-to-understand rating, on scale of 0 to 5.

The second is “Foodness.” This assesses just how close the product is to real food. (You might think of it as “naturalness.”) A piece of fruit gets 5 points, whereas fruit-flavored candy gets 0.

The third is the broadest, “Welfare.” This would include the treatment of workers, animals and the earth. This rating also accounts for carbon footprint and chemical and drug residues.

Food Labels

Other Packaged Food Features

Rating Bars” Top score per category: 5. Bottom score: 0.

Total Score” When you take all three criteria – Nutrition, Foodness and Welfare into account, the highest potential score is 15. Some nonfoods sold in supermarkets, like soda, might score 0.

G.M.O.’S” Provided for those consumers who wish to know whether their food contains genetically modified organisms.

Bittman knows that these are not simple calculations, but no one can honestly say they’re impossible to perform either. It may be that there are wiser ways to sort through this information and get it across. The main point here is: let’s get started.

To read more about OP-ED COLUMNIST, Mark Bittman and his opinion of food labels read “My Dream Food Label.”