Former U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner David Kessler has authored a perspective article in the July 17, 2014, issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, arguing that the agency’s proposed revisions to the Nutrition Facts panel “don’t go far enough.” While praising the first amendments to the panel since its launch in 1997, the article claims that the proposed changes not only stop short of specifying a Daily Value for added sugar but fail to consider a product’s overall nutritional value. Additional details about FDA’s proposed labeling revisions appear in Issue 515 of this Update.

“There is nothing in the new framework that actively encourages consumers to purchase food rich in the fruits, vegetables, and whole grains that are rightfully considered ‘real food,’” explains Kessler. “Instead, the focus is on specific nutrients—an emphasis that gives food companies an incentive to fortify their products so they can make claims such as ‘added fiber’ or to produce sugar-laden foods that can be labeled ‘low fat.’”

To address these concerns, the article urges FDA to overhaul the ingredient list to discourage “tiny type, complex names and confusing formats” and force manufacturers to aggregate related ingredients as opposed to listing them separately. Kessler also recommends a front-of-package labeling scheme that would require labels to prominently display the top three ingredients, the total calorie count and the number of additional ingredients included in the product. “A revised Nutrition Facts label combined with a streamlined, comprehensible ingredient list and trustworthy front-of-package labeling can have a powerful impact not only on consumer behavior, but perhaps more important, on the decisions manufacturers make about foods they create for the marketplace,” he concludes.