Archive | October, 2013

Stanford University study: Sexualization of women in the tech world

21 Oct

Here’s today’s COMMENT FROM AN OLD FART:    Eliana Dockterman reported in the Time article, How Using Sexy Female Avatars in Video Games Changes Women:

It’s not “just a game.”

The debate over whether we should worry about little boys playing violent video games never seems to die down. But maybe we should be fretting just as much about little girls playing those same games. Women who used sexy avatars to represent themselves in video games were more likely to objectify themselves in real life. Not only that, they were more likely to accept what’s called rape myth — i.e., the idea that a woman is in some way to blame for her rape — according to a Stanford study published on Oct. 11 in Computers and Human Behavior.

We’ve known for a long time that the oversexualization of women has a negative impact on the female psyche: one experiment asked women to try on either a bikini or a sweater; those who tried on a bikini reported feeling shame about their bodies and performed more poorly on a math test than their sweater-wearing counterparts. And studies have shown that sexualization of women in the media can negatively impact young girls’ body image. It’s for that very reason that moms worry about their daughters watching the Video Music Awards.

But playing Lara Croft — the wasp-waisted, impossibly large-breasted protagonist in the Tomb Raider video-game series who fights bad guys in an ever-so-practical tight tank top and short shorts — might be worse than watching Miley Cyrus twerking in a bikini. Researchers have demonstrated that embodying characters in virtual worlds has a stronger effect on gamers than just passively watching a character; game play can influence off-line beliefs, attitudes and action thanks to a phenomenon called the Proteus effect in which an individual’s behavior conforms to their digital identity.

And if your avatar resembles you (i.e., you’re playing with a dopplegänger), the game can make an even greater impression. Previous studies have shown playing with a dopplegänger can lead the user to replicate the dopplegänger’s eating patterns, experience physiological arousal or prefer a brand of product endorsed by the dopplegänger. Given that connection, this new study looked at whether embodying sexualized female avatars online changed women’s behavior.

The Stanford researchers asked 86 women ages 18 to 40 to play using either a sexualized (sexily dressed) avatar or a nonsexualized (conservatively dressed) avatar. Then, researchers designed some of those avatars to look like the player embodying them.

Those women who played using sexualized avatars who looked like them were more accepting of the rape myth, according to the study. After playing the game, women responded to many questions with answers along a five-point scale (from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree”), including, “In the majority or rapes, the victim is promiscuous or has a bad reputation.” Those who played sexy avatars who looked like themselves were more likely to answer “agree” or “strongly agree” than those women who had nonsexy avatars who did not look like them.

Participants were also asked to freewrite their thoughts after the study. Those with sexualized avatars were more likely to self-objectify in their essays after play.

Here is the citation for the study:

Computers in Human Behavior The embodiment of sexualized virtual selves: The Proteus effect

and experiences of self-objectification via avatars

Jesse Fox⇑

, Jeremy N. Bailenson1

, Liz Tricase 2

Department of Communication, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94040, USA

Moi wrote in Sexualization of girls: A generation looking much too old for their maturity level:

Just ride the bus, go to the mall or just walk down a city street and one will encounter young girls who look like they are ten going on thirty. What’s going on with that? Moi wrote about the sexualization of girls in Study: Girls as young as six think of themselves as sex objects:

In Children too sexy for their years, moi said:

Maybe, because some parents may not know what is age appropriate for their attire, they haven’t got a clue about what is appropriate for children. There is nothing sadder than a 40 something, 50 something trying to look like they are twenty. What wasn’t sagging when you are 20, is more than likely than not, sagging now.

Kristen Russell Dobson, the managing editor of Parent Map, has a great article in Parent Map. In Are Girls Acting Sexy Too Young?

The culture seems to be sexualizing children at an ever younger age and it becomes more difficult for parents and guardians to allow children to just remain, well children, for a bit longer. Still, parents and guardians must do their part to make sure children are in safe and secure environments. A pole dancing fourth grader is simply unacceptable.

Moi loves fashion and adores seeing adult looks on adults. Many 20 and 30 somethings prefer what I would charitably call the “slut chic” look. This look is questionable fashion taste, in my opinion, but at least the look involves questionable taste on the part of adults as to how they present themselves to the public.

Steve Biddulph wrote in the Daily Mail article, The corruption of a generation: In a major Mail series, a renowned psychologist argues that our daughters are facing an unprecedented crisis… sexualisiation from primary school age:

Over the past few years, I’ve discussed the issue of modern girlhood with numerous friends and colleagues, and everyone has observed the same phenomenon: girls are simply growing up too fast.

To put it bluntly, our 18 is their 14. Our 14 is their 10. Never before has girlhood been under such a sustained assault — from ads, alcohol marketing, girls’ magazines, sexually explicit TV programmes and the hard pornography that’s regularly accessed in so many teenagers’ bedrooms.

The result is that many girls effectively lose four years of crucial development, which may take years in therapy to retrieve. Meanwhile, these girls are filling our mental clinics, police stations and hospitals in unprecedented numbers. Not only that, but having sex with lots of different boys is not good for their bodies. Levels of sexual infections are soaring — including chlamydia, which may affect their fertility.

Less well-known is the fact that the rapid surge in the numbers of girls who perform oral sex is leading to a far greater incidence of mouth and throat cancers.

So why are so many girls succumbing to sexual pressures? And what can we, as parents, do to protect our daughters from the very real perils of our modern world?

The first thing to be said is that the current generation is, at least in one unenviable sense, utterly unique: it’s the first to grow up exposed to hard-core pornography.

Sexting: Girls as young as ten years old are now sending sexual images of themselves on their phones (picture posed by models)

In a recent survey, 53 per cent of girls under 13 reported that they had watched or seen porn. By the age of 16, that figure rose to 97 per cent.

‘My child wouldn’t go looking for porn,’ you may say. But your child doesn’t have to be looking: porn will find them….


  • Remove all digital media from your daughter’s bedroom, including the TV.  Have a rule that all members of the family charge and leave their phones in the kitchen each night.

  • Make sure she’s using the maximum privacy settings online. Some parents make it a condition that for a child to have an account on social media, she must have you as a ‘friend’.

  • Know the rules. Children aren’t supposed to have a Facebook account until they’re 13. They may feel left out, but you need to be firm.

  • Either download or have devices installed on your home computers that filter out porn. Ask your daughter to use her computer only in the kitchen, study or living room.

  • Set limits on time allowed for social networking.

  • Keep the channels of communication open, so that if your daughter sees something online which distresses her, she won’t be ashamed to tell you about it. If you suspect that your daughter is visiting sites that are harmful, raise it with her. Intervene.

  • Know the law. If an 18-year-old posts sexualised images of younger people, he or she is at risk of criminal charges.

  • Never snoop around in your daughter’s bedroom — but do check her phone if you suspect she’s being sent sexual texts or images. Sexting is public behaviour, because anyone can view images or texts and pass them on. And parents have a better understanding of the possible consequences.

Here is the press release from Stanford about the study;

Stanford Report, October 10, 2013

Sexualized avatars affect the real world, Stanford researchers find

A Stanford study shows that after women wear sexualized avatars in a virtual reality world, they feel objectified and are more likely to accept rape myths in the real world. The research could have implications for the role of female characters in video games.


Researchers at Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab are delving into questions posed by sexualized depictions of women in video games.

Specifically, do female players who use provocatively dressed avatars begin to see themselves more as objects and less as human beings? Jeremy Bailenson, the director of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford, has found a way to use virtual reality to answer that question.

This and other issues take on real-world significance as the numbers of female video game players rise despite the industry’s general lack of relatable female characters and as  notoriously violent video games (such as the popular Rockstar Games series, Grand Theft Auto V) continue their rise in popularity.

“We often talk about video game violence and how it affects people who play violent video games,” Bailenson said. “I think it’s equally important to think about sexualization.”

Bailenson is particularly interested in the Proteus Effect: how the experience of acting in a virtual body, known as an avatar, changes people’s behavior in both the virtual and real worlds. For example, when someone wears an avatar that is taller than his actual self, he will act more confidently. People who see the effects of exercise on their bodies in the virtual world will exercise more in the real world.

Proteus Effect and sexualization

 Bailenson and co-author Jesse Fox published a research paper in the journal Computers in Human Behavior that examined how becoming a sexualized avatar affected women’s perceptions of themselves. Participants donned helmets that blocked out the real world, immersing them in a virtual world of 3-D sight and sound. Motion sensors on their wrists and ankles allowed for the lab’s many infrared cameras to record their motions as they moved identically in both worlds.

Once in the new world, each participant looked in a virtual mirror and saw herself or another woman, dressed provocatively or conservatively. The avatar’s movements in the mirror perfectly copied the participant’s actual physical movements, allowing her to truly feel as if she occupied that body.

The researchers then introduced a male accomplice into the virtual world to talk to the participant. What seemed like a normal, get-to-know-you conversation was actually an assessment of how much the women viewed themselves as objects. Women “wearing” the sexualized avatars bearing their likenesses talked about their bodies, hair and dress more than women in the other avatars, suggesting that they were thinking of themselves more as objects than as people.

After their time in the virtual world, the participants filled out a questionnaire rating how much they agreed with various statements. Bailenson and Fox folded rape myths such as “in the majority of rapes, the victim is promiscuous or has a bad reputation” into the questionnaire. Participants rated how much they agreed or disagreed with the statements.

The participants who had worn the sexualized avatars tended to agree with rape myths more than the women who had worn the non-sexualized avatars. Women in sexualized avatars whose faces resembled their own agreed with the myths more than anyone else in the study.

Becoming the protagonist

 The Entertainment Software Association estimates that across mobile, PC and console platforms, 45 percent of American gamers are female. But few game titles feature female protagonists. In many popular games in this fast-growing industry, female characters are in the minority; more often than not, they are sexualized.

Many female gamers assert that gaming culture is not welcoming to women. The collects user-submitted accounts of sexual harassment women experience in online platforms such as Xbox Live. When women critique sexism in games and gamer culture, they are often dismissed or even bullied. Pop-culture critic Anita Sarkeesian faced a barrage of cyber-bullying – including threats of rape and death – for announcing a project examining common tropes of female characters in video games.

Some gamers maintain that virtual worlds and the real world remain mutually exclusive, but the research by Bailenson and Fox suggests differently. “It changes the way you think about yourself online and offline,” Bailenson said. “It used to be passive and you watched the characters. You now enter the media and become the protagonist. You become the characters.”

Cynthia McKelvey is an intern at the Stanford News Service

Media Contact

Dan Stober, Stanford News Service: (650) 721-6965,

Dr. Wilda has been just saying for quite a while.


Popwatch’s Miley Cyrus Pole Dance Video

Baby Center Blog Comments About Miley Cyrus Pole Dance

The Sexualization of Children


Let’s speak the truth: Values and character training are needed in schools

Do ‘grown-ups’ have to be reminded to keep their clothes on in public? Apparently so

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Modern hazards: Halloween and the sex offender registry

17 Oct

Here’s today’s COMMENT FROM AN OLD FART: Moi came across this report from Steve Kiggins of Q13 News, Police: Check your neighborhood for sex offenders on Halloween:

Halloween is fast approaching and police are sounding the alarm, asking if parents really know their neighbors.

Police in Snohomish County said it’s a good idea to check the sex offender registry before you take your kids out for trick-or-treating.

There are 1,700 registered sex offenders in Snohomish County, and at least a dozen in the neighborhood near Rockefeller Avenue and 36th Street. Most parents said they don’t check to see if any of those sex offenders are on their trick-or-treat route.

Lisa Ellefsen and her 3-year-old daughter Reigna are ready for Halloween.

Their Everett neighborhood lists several sex offenders close by, so they usually go trick-or-treating at grandma’s in Arlington. That’s until Ellefsen checked the sex offender registry near grandma’s house.

“That’s Arlington?” Ellefsen exclaimed when she checked the list. She thought leaving Everett would be a safer bet for Halloween, but Arlington has its share of sex offenders.

“It freaks me out,” she said. “You’ve got to watch your kids, I guess. You can’t hide from the world.”

Pumpkins and cobwebs are already up in some Everett yards. Surprisingly, some sex offenders are allowed to put up Halloween decorations — it all depends on the conditions of their release from jail.

“Look at those conditions of that release,” Shari Ireton with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office said. “Of course, if that person is violating one of those conditions, you definitely want to call 911.”

That’s why police want parents to double-check the registry for their neighborhoods.

“The more informed someone is about what’s going on in their neighborhood or community, that’s the surest form of crime prevention,” Ireton said.

Search your county’s sex offender registry at the links below:

The world has sure changed from what moi knew as a kid. Here is the National Sex Offender Registry Watchdog

Parents for Megan’s Law and the Crime Victim Center are offering the following tips:

Be aware! There are over 614,000 registered sex offenders in the United States. Your child could be knocking on the door of a convicted sex offender. Use the following Halloween Safety Tips to help protect our most vulnerable.
1. ALWAYS check for registered offenders in your neighborhood.
2.NEVER allow children or teens to Trick or Treat alone.
3.ALWAYS accompany young children to the doors of homes they approach.
4.NEVER allow kids to enter a home without permission from a parent.
5.NEVER allow children to approach any vehicle unless they know the owner.
6.ALWAYS have children carry a flashlight or glow stick.
7.NEVER approach a house that is not well lit.
8.ALWAYS scream, kick and punch anyone who tries to grab or force kids to go with them.
9.NEVER consume unwrapped prepackaged treats.
10.ALWAYS carefully inspect treats for open wrappers.

Call us for your free copy of Halloween Safety Tips!

Contact Us

1-(888) ASK-PFML or 1-(631)689-2672

Email us at

New! 24 Hour Megan’s Law and Sex Offender Tips Hotline
for Suffolk County New York Residents
Call 1-(855) PFML TIP

If you would like to report a sex offender in violation (click here) .

The sex offender hazard really brings into focus what Facebook, Twitter, and other social media lack. It is a sense of community and knowing who your neighbors are.

Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz wrote in the 2012 Chicago Tribune article, Why it’s worth getting to know your neighbors:  Some neighborly advice on reaching out and making connections:

Some 28 percent of us know none of our neighbors’ names, reports a 2010 Pew survey; it’s particularly pervasive among younger and lower-income people.

“The biggest barrier is just a perception that we should not be involved,” said Keith Hampton, associate professor of communications at Rutgers University. “We fear having people intrude in our lives, but we also have to recognize … (the) risk in not knowing the people around you.”

Knowing your neighbors can help defuse conflicts before they turn ugly.

“If someone leaves their dog out too late barking, then that’s Joe — it’s not some random guy you hate,” said Bob Borzotta, founder of, a chat room for people embroiled in neighbor disputes.

Though technology is partly responsible for making neighbors less relevant (it enables people get social support from afar), it also is helping revive neighbor ties. Several social networking sites are dedicated to connecting neighbors; Hampton’s research shows that people who use those technologies are more likely to talk to their neighbors in person and on the phone than those who don’t.

One such site is, which has more than 1,900 neighborhoods, said co-founder Nirav Tolia. Its purpose is not social but to solve practical problems, like finding a lost dog or organizing a block party. The majority of posts are either recommendation requests (someone seeking a good plumber) or classifieds (trying to sell a couch). There’s also an “urgent alerts” feature that sends an emergency note via text message; a neighborhood in Texas used it recently to alert people to tornadoes.

Jon Elliott, 28, joined the Nextdoor group for his neighborhood in Lancaster, Pa., in hopes of creating a sense of community because, he said, “it’s hard to go up to someone walking their dog and just start a conversation.”

The site proved helpful when a posting about a car break-in spurred a slew of neighbors to respond that their cars also had been broken into, Elliott, said. But neighbors also now wave to each other in the street and call one another by their names, he added.

That’s not to say neighbors should become best friends. It’s the weak ties that make a happy neighborhood, Hampton said, so just make it a point to say hello or offer to collect someone’s newspapers if they’re going out of town.

Respecting boundaries is vital, Borzotta added. Introducing yourself if you’re new to the neighborhood, or welcoming a neighbor who has just moved in, is a good way to establish contact, he said. (Cookies? Unnecessary.)

In a world where many are wired, but few are connected, a sense of community is one defense against predators whom roam all year, not just at Halloween.

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Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic study: Food sell-by-dates are often bogus and not based on fact

12 Oct

Here’s today’s COMMENT FROM AN OLD FART: Moi read with interest the UPI report, Sniffing out the meaning in ‘Sell by’ dates;

Hold on before dumping that gallon milk down the sink; just because it’s past the “sell-by” date doesn’t necessarily mean it needs to be thrown out.

More than 90 percent of U.S. consumers may be wasting money and prematurely throwing away perfectly good food because they misinterpret food labels as indicators of food safety, a report by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic said.

The report called for changes in the way food manufacturers label their products.

“Expiration dates are in need of some serious myth-busting because they’re leading us to waste money and throw out perfectly good food, along with all of the resources that went into growing it,” said Dana Gunders, staff scientist with the NRDC’s food and agriculture program. “Phrases like ‘sell by’, ‘use by’, and ‘best before’ are poorly regulated, misinterpreted and leading to a false confidence in food safety. It is time for a well-intended but wildly ineffective food date labeling system to get a makeover.”

The study, “The Dating Game: How Confusing Food Date Labels Lead to Food Waste in America,” is a follow-up to a 2012 NRDC report that found as much as 40 percent of the U.S. food supply ends up in the garbage each year.

The report found 91 percent of consumers occasionally throw food away based on the “sell by” date out of a mistaken concern for food safety even though none of the date labels actually indicates food is unsafe to eat.

An estimated 160 billion pounds of food is trashed in the United States every year, making food waste the single largest contributor of solid waste in the nation’s landfills.

“Sell by” dates are used by grocery stores to determine when their stock should be rotated, they do not indicate the food is bad on that date. “Best before” and “use by” dates are intended for consumers, but they usually just estimate peak quality, again not an accurate date of spoiling or an indication that food is unsafe…

That reminds moi of:

“There’s a sucker born every minute” is a phrase often credited to P. T. Barnum (1810–1891), an American showman. Though this phrase is often credited to Barnum, it was more likely spoken by a man by the name of David Hannum, who was criticizing both Barnum and his customers.’s_a_sucker_born_every_minute

No matter who said it, we are all suckers of planned obsolescence.

According to the Economist article, Planned obsolescence:

Planned obsolescence is a business strategy in which the obsolescence (the process of becoming obsolete—that is, unfashionable or no longer usable) of a product is planned and built into it from its conception. This is done so that in future the consumer feels a need to purchase new products and services that the manufacturer brings out as replacements for the old ones.

So, the sell-by-dates are not based upon scientific fact, but a random guess. The real question is how the public fights the theory of planned obsolescence?

Addison Del Mastro posts the following suggestions at the PERC Blog in Planned Obsolescence: The Good and the Bad:

Consumer education

Consumer education is a relatively easy way to resist pseudo-functional obsolescence. The first goal of consumer education is simply to make consumers aware that pseudo-functional obsolescence actually exists. Many of us know very little about how our products really work, and so it can be hard for the average consumer to tell the difference between true innovation and pseudo-functional obsolescence. Providing this information is not always easy. Sometimes, identifying pseudo-functional obsolescence requires very specific knowledge of a product. But sometimes it’s easier, as in the case of the laptop chargers mentioned above. The electrical specs are what really determine compatibility. If the specs are the same but the plugs are different, it’s fairly easy to identify this as pseudo-functional obsolescence. Once consumers are aware of pseudo-functional obsolescence, they can buy better products from better companies. But in addition to making smarter choices in the marketplace, consumers can also address their complaints directly to companies. If all of our complaints actually reached the businesses responsible, this would undoubtedly have a positive impact on their business practices.

Promote voluntary industry standards

Voluntary industry standards are often so widely accepted that we hardly think of them as specifically chosen standards – instead it seems like it’s simply the way things are. For example, the 110 volt household current system in the United States is a standard first promoted by Thomas Edison. Later on, the size and shape of the home electric plug was standardized by the National Electrical Manufacturers Association and the American National Standards Institute. If we step back and think about it, it really is incredible that a 70-year-old electric appliance still operates in a modern home’s electric system.Yet it is not hard to imagine things turning out differently. In the beginning there were competing electrical systems, and without standardization things might have remained this way. Different homes could have been built with different systems, meaning that if you moved to a new home, you would have to replace every electric item you owned. There could have been several different sizes and shapes of electric plugs too. Old plug sizes might have eventually been retired and replaced with “improved” models, so if you needed to replace a socket in your home it wouldn’t match all the rest.This sounds rather ridiculous, but only because the industry standards in home electricity have served us so well. Industry standards in the electronics industry for items like chargers and batteries could go a long way towards saving resources and improving product usability for consumers.Freely adopted industry standards allow us to use an electrical appliance from decades ago in a modern home. Industry standards in electronics would allow us to use last year’s charger in this year’s laptop. Is that really too much to ask of the electronics companies?The free market is powerful and beneficial, but an efficient market requires knowledge. Once consumers become informed about planned obsolescence — the good and the bad — they can better use the market to buy more efficient products. This will benefit consumers, responsible businesses, and the environment.

Right now, ALL of us are getting killed as much by what we don’t know. Those who use planned obsolescence as a business strategy are counting on our ignorance and lack of knowledge as members of the public. Moi is one of those who felt that the sell-by-dates were sacrosanct. Time to ask more questions. In the meanwhile, many producers are counting on there is a sucker born every minute.

Here is the press release:

Main page | Archive

Press contact: Jackie Wei,, 310-434-2325 or (cell) 347-874-8305

If you are not a member of the press, please write to us at or see our contact page

New Report: Food Expiration Date Confusion Causing up to 90% of Americans to Waste Food

NRDC & Harvard Reveal Costs of Mass Consumer Confusion; Offer New Plan for Commonsense Food Date Labeling

NEW YORK (September 18, 2013) – U.S. consumers and businesses needlessly trash billions of pounds of food every year as a result of America’s dizzying array of food expiration date labeling practices, which need to be standardized and clarified, according to a new report co-authored by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic. One key finding from an industry-conducted survey: More than 90 percent of Americans may be prematurely tossing food because they misinterpret food labels as indicators of food safety.

“Expiration dates are in need of some serious myth-busting because they’re leading us to waste money and throw out perfectly good food, along with all of the resources that went into growing it,” said Dana Gunders, NRDC staff scientist with the food and agriculture program. “Phrases like ‘sell by’, ’use by’, and ‘best before’ are poorly regulated, misinterpreted and leading to a false confidence in food safety. It is time for a well-intended but wildly ineffective food date labeling system to get a makeover.”

NRDC and Harvard Law’s study, The Dating Game: How Confusing Food Date Labels Lead to Food Waste in America is a first-of-its-kind legal analysis of the tangle of loose federal and state laws related to date labels across all 50 states and presents recommendations for a new system for food date labeling. The report is a follow-up to NRDC’s 2012 Wasted report, which revealed that Americans trash up to 40 percent of our food supply every year, equivalent to $165 billion.

For the vast majority of food products, manufacturers are free to determine date shelf life according to their own methods. The report finds that the confusion created by this range of poorly regulated and inconsistent labels leads to results that undermine the intent of the labeling, including:

  • False Notions that Food is Unsafe – 91 percent of consumers occasionally throw food away based on the “sell by” date out of a mistaken concern for food safety even though none of the date labels actually indicate food is unsafe to eat;
  • Consumer Confusion Costs – an estimated 20 percent of food wasted in U.K. households is due to misinterpretation of date labels. Extending the same estimate to the U.S., the average household of four is losing $275-455 per year on food needlessly trashed;
  • Business Confusion Costs – an estimated $900 million worth of expired food is removed from the supply chain every year. While not all of this is due to confusion, a casual survey of grocery store workers found that even employees themselves do not distinguish between different kinds of dates;
  • Mass Amounts of Wasted Food – The labeling system is one factor leading to an estimated 160 billion pounds of food trashed in the U.S. every year, making food waste the single largest contributor of solid waste in the nation’s landfills.

Two main categories of labeling exist for manufacturers: those intended to communicate among businesses and those for consumers. But they are not easily distinguishable from one another and neither is designed to indicate food’s safety. “Sell by” dates are a tool for stock control, suggesting when the grocery store should no longer sell products in order to ensure the products still have shelf life after consumers purchase them. They are not meant to communicate with consumers, nor do they indicate the food is bad on that date. “Best before” and “use by” dates are intended for consumers, but they are often just a manufacturer’s estimate of a date after which food will no longer be at peak quality; not an accurate date of spoiling or an indication that food is unsafe. Consumers have no way of knowing how these “sell by” and “use by” dates have been defined or calculated since state laws vary dramatically and companies set their own methods for determining the dates, none of which helps to improve public health and safety.

“We need a standardized, commonsense date labeling system that actually provides useful information to consumers, rather than the unreliable, inconsistent and piecemeal system we have today,” said Emily Broad Leib, lead author of the report and director of Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic. “This comprehensive review provides a blueprint calling on the most influential date label enforcers – food industry actors and policymakers – to create and foster a better system that serves our health, pocketbooks and the environment.”

Use of expiration dates for food stem from consumer unease about food freshness mounting over the 20th century, as Americans left farms and lost their connection to the foods they consume. By 1975, a nationwide survey of shoppers showed 95% of respondents considered date labels to be the most useful consumer service for addressing freshness. The widespread concern prompted over 10 congressional bills introduced between 1973-1975 alone, to establish requirements for food dating. During that time, the General Accounting Office (GAO) issued a report to Congress advocating a uniform national date labeling system to avoid confusion. Despite GAO’s prophetic advice, none of the legislative efforts gained enough momentum to become law. Instead, the 1970s began the piecemeal creation of today’s fractured American date labeling regime.

While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture have the power to regulate food labeling to ensure consumers are not misled, both agencies have failed to adequately exercise their authority. FDA does not require food companies to place any date labels on food products, leaving the information entirely at the discretion of the manufacturer. The only product for which a date is federally regulated is infant formula.

Food producers and retailers can begin to adopt the following recommended changes to date labels voluntarily but government steps, including legislation by Congress and more oversight by FDA and USDA, should be considered as well:

  • Making “sell by” dates invisible to consumers, as they indicate business-to-business labeling information and are mistakenly interpreted as safety dates;
  • Establishing a more uniform, easily understandable date label system that communicates clearly with consumers by 1) using consistent, unambiguous language; 2) clearly differentiating between safety- and quality-based dates; 3) predictably locating the date on package; 4) employing more transparent methods for selecting dates; and other changes to improve coherency;
  • Increasing the use of safe handling instructions and “smart labels” that use technology to provide additional information on the product’s safety.

“The scale of food waste worldwide is one of the most emblematic examples of how humanity is needlessly running down its natural resources. This new report comes on the heels of one compiled by the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), which points out that 28 percent of the world’s farmland is being used to produce food that is not eaten–an area larger than China,” said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director. “Everyone, every business, every city, state and government should do something to tackle this wastage to help reduce the global Foodprint.”


The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world’s natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Livingston, Montana, and Beijing. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.

The Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, a division of the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation, is an experiential teaching program of Harvard Law School that links law students with opportunities to serve clients and communities grappling with various food law and policy issues. The Clinic strives to increase access to healthy foods, prevent diet-related diseases, and assist small and sustainable farmers and producers in participating in local food markets. For more information, visit

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