FDA Proposes Major Changes to the “Nutrition Facts” Label – Price Tag $2 Billion

Two billion dollars – That is what FDA estimates the food industry will spend to comply with proposed changes to the iconic “Nutrition Facts” label. That’s about all we know for sure. The agency says the new information will provide $20-$30 billion in benefits to consumers by the year 2035, primarily by lowering risk of diet-related diseases and associated health care costs. Similar predictions were made when FDA finalized its original regulations for nutrition labeling in 1994, but they didn’t materialize.

FDA surveys showed many consumers did not understand the new information. Some thought they should strive to consume 100% of the Daily Value of each of the nutrients listed on the label. The 1994 launch of the Nutrition Facts label triggered an onslaught of new “low fat” foods. While these products met FDA’s new requirement for “low fat” claims, many of the products were not lower in calories. Some consumers thought they could eat the whole box! Obesity increased.

To be effective, consumers have to actually read the Nutrition Facts label, comprehend the information, change their purchasing decisions based on the information, develop new eating patterns, engage in physical activity, and avoid other lifestyle choices that would negate the improvements they make to their diets. No study has shown that the Nutrition Facts labels do that.

Hopefully, as the saying goes, the second time is the charm.

FDA’s proposed rule to update the Nutrition Facts label, along with other proposed rules on changes to serving sizes, were released today and will publish in the Federal Register on March 3rd.

So how exactly is FDA proposing to change the Nutrition Facts label? A picture tells a thousand words. Here are some before and after versions provided by the agency. The two versions may look similar, but there are actually some major differences:

Highlights include:

Changes in Required Nutrients

  • “Added Sugars” (amount, not %DV) would be required to be declared. This may be the most controversial change in FDA’s proposal.
  • “Calories from Fat” would no longer be required.
  • “Fiber” as listed on the label would be redefined to exclude purified, processed fibers, such as maltodextrin and inulin.
  • Insoluble fiber may be declared voluntarily (but disclosure becomes mandatory if a claim is made).
  • Vitamins and minerals – FDA is proposing to require declaration of Vitamin D and Potassium because of concern that Americans are not consuming enough of these micronutrients. Declaration of vitamins A and C would become optional. FDA would also require the amount, as well as the %DV, for vitamins and minerals.

Changes in Format

  • The size of the “Calories” and “Servings Per Container” declarations would increase substantially to emphasize this information.
  • %DV’s would move from the right hand to the left hand side of the box, also to give this information greater prominence.
  • The footnote about DV’s would be shortened. As of this time, the agency has not said exactly how.

Changes in Daily Values

  • The DV for Sodium would decrease slightly from 2,400 mg to 2,300 mg.
  • The DV for fiber would be updated to 28 g.

RACC’s and Serving Sizes

  • FDA would update 17% of the reference amounts customarily consumed (RACCs) to reflect more recent consumption data; most would increase. This would likely mean larger serving sizes for many food products. For example, the RACC for ice cream would increase from ½ cup to 1 cup.
  • 27 new RACCs would be created for food products that previously did not have one.
  • Certain larger packages would have to be labeled both per serving and per package. For example, a 24-ounce bottle of soda, a 19-ounce can of soup and a pint of ice cream would have to be labeled in a dual column format—per serving and per package—if the package contains at least two times the serving size and less than or equal to four times the serving size.
  • For a package more than four times the RACC, the dual column listing would not be required.

The proposed rule does not include some changes that FDA reportedly had been considering.

  • FDA is not proposing to establish a DV for added or total sugars;
  • FDA is not proposing to amend its nutrient content claim or health claim regulations to take into account a food’s “added sugars” content;
  • FDA is not proposing any change to the 0.5 gram threshold for declaring “Trans Fat” and is not proposing a Daily Value for trans fat; and
  • FDA is not proposing any regulations on the use of front-of-pack nutrition rating symbols. Such labeling, including grocery store shelf-markers, will remain subject to FDA’s 2009 enforcement policy on the matter.

There will be a 90-day comment period, which industry members should take full advantage of, given the $2 billion price tag.

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