For the first time in 20 years, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced significant proposed changes to the “Nutrition Facts” label appearing on food packages. The changes reflect the shifting science behind nutrition and are aimed at making the labels more useful to consumers. A summary of the proposed changes follows below.
New Information. The proposed labels will include information regarding added sugars, vitamin D, and potassium, none of which appear on the current labels. The FDA proposes including added sugar information to help consumers differentiate between sugar naturally occurring in a food or drink versus sugars added during the manufacturing process. The FDA views the change as important because added sugars provide no additional nutrient value. As for vitamin D and potassium, that information is being added because of vitamin D’s importance to bone health and potassium’s role in helping to prevent hypertension.
Revised Information. The FDA also proposes changing the labels to display more prominently and realistically key information regarding food. The FDA proposes changes that will more prominently feature serving size, calorie count, and percent of daily value information on the label. (Whether recommended daily values will change is uncertain, though there is some indication that the recommended daily amount of sodium will be reduced).
The most significant proposed change relates to serving size information. Under the FDA proposal, serving size information will reflect more accurately consumers’ current eating habits. For instance, the FDA proposes the following increases to reference amounts customarily consumed (RACC) per eating occasion (for adults):
- Double the current RACC for bagels, toaster pastries, and muffins
- Increase by 50% the current RACC for carbonated and noncarbonated beverages, wine coolers, water, coffee, and tea
- Increase by 30 grams the current RACC for fish, shellfish, game meats, and “meat or poultry substitutes”
- Increase by 66% the RACC for avocado
- Double the current RACC for sugar
Furthermore, foods typically consumed in one sitting (e.g., a small bag of chips) will be counted as one serving instead of multiple servings. Specifically, the FDA proposes that most individually packaged items containing less than 200% of the RACC should be considered a single serving. The FDA is also proposing that certain foods contain dual column labels – one column showing the nutritional information for consuming the entire package, the other showing information on a per serving basis. The FDA proposes dual column labeling for packages containing between 200% and 400% of the RACC.
Removed Information. The FDA proposes removing from nutrition labels information related to calories from fat, as well as information related to vitamins A and C. The information detailing calories from fat is being removed because the FDA views the type of fat as more significant than the total amount of fat. To that end, the proposed label still includes information relating to saturated and trans fats in a product (as a subset of the total fat). As for vitamins A and C, the FDA believes deficiencies in those vitamins are uncommon. Although not required, manufacturers may still include information regarding vitamins A and C, if desired.
The FDA has proposed a 90-day comment period on the proposed label changes. For any changes ultimately adopted in a final rule, the agency has proposed giving the industry 2 years to comply. Some sources are reporting, however, that the food industry may be able to delay implementation by petitioning Congress to request further research into the proposed changes.
If the label changes are adopted as proposed, estimates indicate that the changes could cost the food industry about $2 billion. The overall economic impact of the changes, however, is uncertain. For instance, manufacturers may change serving sizes and/or consumers may change their buying habits as a result of the labels.
Steptoe is closely monitoring the proposed label changes. We expect to provide more details to our clients as final decisions are made. In the interim, if you have specific questions or concerns, please direct them to Dr. Mitchell Cheeseman or Ms. Jennifer Quinn-Barabanov in our Washington office.
The proposed rule is available at http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=FDA-2012-N-1210-0002.