Health, Industry Groups Respond to Nutrition Label Revamp

Nutrition labels are getting their first makeover since becoming required on almost all food packaging 20 years ago. Public health groups like what they see, while a food industry group, urging caution, has pledged to work with the FDA.

Your favorite cereals and snacks may have gone through recipe, flavor, and logo changes over the past 20 years, but you know what hasn’t? The nutrition fact labels on their packaging.

But now, two decades after the Food and Drug Administration began requiring them, the nutrition label is set to get a bit of a facelift.

The new labels, unveiled last week, aim to place greater emphasis on important nutrition facts, like calorie counts and serving size, with larger and bolder type, and will have updated serving size and percent-daily-values that “reflect the reality of what people actually eat.”

Other changes include dropping the “calories-from-fat” number, adding a line for “added sugars” like corn syrup, and requiring that the amounts of potassium and Vitamin D are included on the label.

“The goal is to make people aware of what they are eating and give them the tools to make healthy dietary choices throughout the day,” Jessica Leighton, Ph.D., a senior nutrition science and policy advisor for the FDA, said in a statement.

Last month, food and public health associations offered suggestions on what kinds of changes they thought could be made to improve the nutrition facts panel. After seeing the FDA’s final design, they’re mostly in support of the new look.

“Eating healthy is a habit all Americans need to have, and the FDA’s proposed new nutrition labels will help put that goal within reach,” American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown said in a statement.

Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, agreed, calling the labels cleaner, more informative, and easier to understand. “This is a very important step forward,” he said. “Giving people the ability to make better-informed nutritional decisions is going to be very helpful as far as public health is concerned.”

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, while in favor of the new labels, said many Americans still don’t know how to properly read and use the nutrition facts panel. “To make these changes fully meaningful for consumers, the Academy recommends implementing a sustained, adequately funded nutrition education initiative empowering consumers to use the new label to make informed decisions to eat healthfully,” Academy President Dr. Glenna McCollum said in a statement.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association, which, according to the Washington Post, expressed frustration over the “added sugars” requirement, said it looked forward to working with the FDA as the proposed updates make their way through the rule-making process. “It is critical that any changes are based on the most current and reliable science,” GMA president and CEO Pamela Bailey said in a statement. “Equally as important is ensuring that any changes ultimately serve to inform, and not confuse, consumers.”

The proposed changes will be open for a 90-day comment period, and FDA officials said they hope to have the process completed by the end of this year. After publication of the final rules, it said the food industry would be given two years to comply with the changes.

Editor’s Note: This story’s headline and introduction have been revised to more clearly reflect the reporting in the story.

The FDA's proposed nutrition label update, left, next to the current label. (Food and Drug Administration)

Rob Stott

By Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!