For the first time in twenty years, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed significant changes to nutrition labels on food packaging.  The proposed rules call for—among other things—a greater emphasis on calorie count, additional information on added sugars, and updated serving size requirements.  The Agency believes that these proposed changes will help “expand and highlight the information [people] most need when making choices.”

The Agency is dividing the proposed changes into two rules.  The first rule proposes to update the design of, and nutrition information content on, food labels by implementing larger and bolder fonts to display more prominently calorie count, adding a line detailing the amount of “added sugars,” potassium and Vitamin D, removing information on calories from fat, and updating Daily Values for various nutrients.  The second rule proposes to implement new serving size requirements, for twenty-seven foods, to reflect more correctly the portion sizes people actually consume.  The serving size for some products will increase while the serving size for other products, like yogurt, will decrease.

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A potentially controversial component of the proposed changes is the addition of a new line for added sugars.  In the past, the food industry strongly objected to an analogous proposal, arguing that added sugars—sugars added to food during processing— are chemically identical to natural sugars in foods.  However, citing newer research, the Agency believes providing this information will help consumers comply with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which recommend reducing calories from added sugars

The serving size changes would be significant.  For example, according to FDA, research shows that Americans typically consume one cup of ice cream as opposed to the half cup currently listed on as the serving size.  As a result, the number of calories listed in one serving size of Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream will be 500 calories as opposed to two servings of 250 calories.  The Agency believes that this change will help consumers make more informed decisions in their eating habits.

Overall, FDA estimates that the proposed changes will cost the food industry $2 billion to implement and result in health benefits worth as much as $30 billion.  Once finalized, companies will have two years to comply with any changes.

Both proposed rules will remain open for comment for 90 days.