Food nutrition facts label

Congress Losing Patience with FDA Over Labels

Denis Storey
April 17, 2018

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Maybe it’s the Food and Drug Administration’s reluctance to commit to a deadline. Or perhaps it’s just a group of politicians who see an opportunity. Either way, Congress appears poised to make a move on nutrition labels.

Last week, U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, Edward J. Markey, D-Massachusetts, and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, introduced the Food Labeling Modernization Act, legislation aimed at simplifying food labels while making it harder to mislead consumers.

“Consumers deserve clear, accurate information about the food they eat – but instead of giving consumers clarity, current labels are a maze of confusion,” Blumenthal said in a release announcing the legislation. “The Food Labeling Modernization Act empowers consumers with accurate, truthful, and concise information, giving them the tools they need to make healthier choices and outsmart deceptive pitches and promotions.”

Although the exact text has yet to be published, the bill proposes what it calls “food labeling reform” targeting product packaging as a whole, including “front-of-package labeling, misleading health claims, and requiring updates to the Nutrition Facts label and the ingredient list.”

Specifically, the bill would mandate:

  • Standardized front-of-package nutrition labeling for all foods required to bear nutrition labeling.

  • Guidelines for the use of the terms “healthy” or “made with whole grains.”

  • The establishment of a percent Daily Value for calories and sugars.

  • The establishment of a definition for “natural.”

  • A new label format for the declaration of ingredients.

  • The declaration of caffeine on the information panel if a food contains 10 milligrams or more per serving.

  • Add sesame to the list of major U.S. allergens.

  • The declaration on the principal display panel of any added natural or artificial color added natural or artificial non-caloric sweetener or added natural or artificial flavoring.

 Dr. Peter Lurie, the director and president of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, immediately supported the move.

“American families are searching for healthier products, but food labels are often full of confusing information,” Lurie said. “The FLMA provides an important roadmap for the FDA to improve food labels, offering clear, useful information that will make healthy choices easier for all Americans.”

The bill also earned a quick endorsement from the Consumers Union but drew an understandably lukewarm response from the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which told Progressive Grocer, “We look forward to reviewing the specifics of the Food Labeling Modernization Act of 2018. Our industry is committed to providing consumers with the information they need to achieve and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Through our Facts Up Front front-of-pack labels and the SmartLabel ingredient information initiative, consumers now have easier access to more ingredient information than ever.”

If the glacial evolution of the Food Safety and Modernization Act has shown us anything, it’s that change might move slow, but it’s inevitable.

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