FDA Proposes First Major Nutrition Label Changes Since 1994
February 27, 2014

FDA Proposes First Major Nutrition Label Changes Since 1994

Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

The Obama Administration will today be announcing a new FDA proposal on nutritional labels – the first major revamp in nearly 20 years. The update is focusing largely on calorie information, serving sizes and added sugars.

With obesity and chronic disease skyrocketing, the revision proposal aims to help people make more healthful food choices and to also encourage the food industry to reformulate many products that include too much added sugar.

First Lady Michelle Obama is expected to announce the new proposal at the White House with other top officials today.

"Our guiding principle here is very simple: that you as a parent and a consumer should be able to walk into your local grocery store, pick up an item off the shelf, and be able to tell whether it's good for your family," she said in a statement, as cited by The Los Angeles Times.

If the new FDA proposal is approved, nutritional labels will not only see a major update to calorie and added sugar information, but will also place more emphasis on vitamin and mineral nutrients. Also, the proposal addresses serving size changes that reflect more accurately on how much people are eating or drinking.

The announcement will kick off a 90-day comment period, allowing for the public to have their say on the new FDA proposal. A final rule on the proposal is slated to be released within a year. While there is no deadline for a final ruling, the FDA is proposing that the food industry would have two years after the final ruling to implement changes. This is largely due to the costs associated with food label revision.

“The monetary stakes are enormous: The administration estimates that the relabeling could cost the industry $2 billion to implement but will result in $20 billion to $30 billion in health-care savings and other benefits over 20 years,” wrote Ariana Eunjung Cha for the Washington Post.

While the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents more than 300 companies, is on board with the new FDA proposal, it noted that any changes to nutrition labeling must be “based on the most current and reliable science.” It added that it is also important that any changes “ultimately serve to inform, and not confuse, consumers.”

According to CNN, the proposed labels would remove the “calories from fat” line on labels and focus instead on total calories found in each serving. Nutritional experts concur that the type of fat being consumed is more important than the calories from the fat. The labels would also note how much added sugar is in a product rather than just total sugar.

Daily values for nutrients, such as sodium, dietary fiber and vitamin D, will also be updated. The current daily limit for sodium is 2,400 mg. Under the new rules, that limit would be dropped to 2,300 mg. As well, food producers would also have to declare the amount of calcium, iron and potassium is in a product, as well as vitamin D.

“Administration officials said about 17 percent of current serving size requirements will be changing, and the FDA is adding 25 categories for products that weren't commonly around 20 years ago (think pot stickers, sesame oil and sun-dried tomatoes),” wrote CNN, adding that the some serving sizes will be going up and others will be going down.

The rule changes would help consumers comply with dietary guidelines, maintained Administration officials. To be clear, research has shown that most American consumers are interested in what’s on nutrition labels.

A USDA study released last month showed that 42 percent of working-age adults between 29 and 68 read nutrition labels most of the time when shopping. About 57 percent of those older than 68 noted they looked at labels most of the time. This finding was up from 2007, when just 34 percent of working-age adults and 51 percent of seniors read labels.

Other research has shown that people who read nutrition labels eat healthier. And with the rising obesity epidemic, healthy eating is more important than ever. CDC data has shown that more than a third of all Americans are obese – a finding that should bolster the move to pass nutrition label changes and return the country to healthy once again.

Some, however, wish not to see the proposal make any headway at all.

Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University, told LA Times that this proposal could prompt food companies, which have powerful pull in Washington, to push back against any attempt by the FDA or the Obama Administration to change food labeling rules.

"The food industry is really eager for people to not know how much sugar there is," she said.

Others feel the FDA proposal on added sugar doesn’t go far enough.

Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, argues that the FDA should also display the amount of sugar as a percentage of recommended daily value, noting that already, too many people are consuming too much sugar.

Under the new proposal, food companies would also be required to keep records of added sugar in their products for future FDA inspections – a move that would ensure compliance, notes the Obama Administration.