Updating a Standard: FDA’s Nutrition Label Revamp Has Industry Support
Public health groups and the grocery industry agree that now's a good time to change the labels used on processed foods—and they have a few ideas to share on the initiative.
For more than two decades, nearly all of our packaged foods have had one thing in common: the label on the back.
The Food and Drug Administration’s nutritional labeling, which has been required on nearly all food since 1993, is set to get an update. The FDA says it’s needed to take advantage of advances in science and research, according to a summary on the website of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget.
And key players—including health and nutrition advocacy groups and industry associations—are ready to help encourage better standards.
“This is a chance to make [the labels] better and help make it easier for people to choose healthier options,” Margo Wootan, who directs nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), told CNN.
Here’s what’s being discussed:
Removing some things, adding others: With two decades of additional research and changing trends to consider, some groups are pushing to adjust the makeup of the labels. The Grocery Manufacturers Association, for example, suggests removing the listing for “calories from fat,” which it says has declined as a useful metric for consumers. “The public health perspective that led to the nutrition facts panel in the early 1990s has shifted over the past 20 years, away from total fat and fatty acids and toward calories,” GMA spokesman Brian Kennedy told Bloomberg. Meanwhile, nutrition advocates and groups such as the American Heart Association would like a line included listing the amount of added sugars and syrups that don’t naturally occur in the food or drink item. That might be difficult to do, however, because of some manufacturers’ practices when adding sugars to foods.
Adjusting serving sizes: Ever eat a bag of chips and realize after the fact that you’ve eaten far more than a single serving? Nutrition advocates say that many foods and drinks, despite clearly being designed to be consumed as a single serving, have packaging listing them as being two or three servings, meaning that the nutrition information is misleading. The FDA is considering options for addressing the problem, according to an Associated Press report.
Clarifying the information: Some elements of the label can be confusing to consumers, according to the CSPI’s Michael Jacobson, who told AP that some units of measure—such as grams and liters, which are metric—might be uncommon for U.S. consumers, making it difficult to quantify exactly how much of a given nutrient is in a processed food. Other proposed changes would improve readability: CSPI would like to see larger labels with better spacing, for example. Nutritionists also hope that the regulations extend to the front of the box, an area of packaging that the FDA has yet to regulate in earnest.
The agency’s move comes at a time when food labeling is increasingly in the news. Last week, for example, PepsiCo made headlines for changing the name of its “Simply Natural Cheetos” to “Simply Cheetos”—as the word “natural” on packaging has been drawing FDA scrutiny. And debates over labeling genetically modified organisms in foods are ongoing.