With the exception of adding trans fatty acids, the Nutrition Facts Label has not undergone any significant changes since Congress first approved it under the 1990 Nutrition Labeling and Education Act until now.  In March 2014, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (the “FDA”) unveiled proposed changes to nutrition labels that will affect all packaged food products, other than meat, poultry, and processed egg products regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

The proposed label format is intended to emphasize the caloric content of food products.  Calories from fat will be removed from nutrition labels, while information on unsaturated, saturated, trans, and total fat will remain.  According to the FDA, this proposed change is based on research studies indicating that the type of fat is more significant to our health than the number of calories from fat.  The FDA has also proposed adding a separate line on labels to alert consumers to the amount of “added sugars” to draw attention to sugar that is added beyond what is naturally occurring in the particular food product.

To make it easier for consumers to accurately determine the number of calories they are consuming, the FDA proposed revising serving sizes to more accurately reflect the amount typically consumed.  Although the original serving sizes were based on serving sizes reported during the 1970s and 1980s, the portion sizes consumed by the average consumer have gotten significantly larger.  The proposal, for example, changes the serving size of a 20 oz. bottle of pop from 2.5 servings to one serving.  Similarly, the serving size of ice cream would increase from a half-cup to one-cup.  For food packages that could be consumed in one or more sittings, FDA proposed a new dual column label requirement that provides both “per serving” and “per package” nutritional data. 

The FDA estimates that the labeling changes will cost the food industry approximately $2.3 billion to implement, but will lead to up to $30 billion in benefits over time.  In addition to redoing the nutrition label on food products, industry may also incur costs when altering advertising and packaging claims to align with the new nutritional label.  The cost of reprinting packages, determining new serving sizes, and implementing other changes to nutrition labels may raise significant financial challenges for small- and mid-sized food manufacturers.

The food industry has cautiously greeted the proposed labeling changes.  The Grocery Manufacturers Association stated that it supported a thoughtful review of the Nutrition Facts panel in response to the dramatic changes in diets, eating patterns, and consumer preferences that have occurred since the Nutrition Facts were first introduced. 

The proposals are open for public comment until June 2, 2014. Once the final rules are released, food companies will have two years from the effective date of the regulations to comply with the new requirements.