The Future of the Nutrition Label

Posted by Jennifer Brusco on March 10, 2014 at 2:00 PM

Legislation-Manufacturing

On Feb. 27, 2014, HHS Secretary Sebelius, FDA Commissioner Hamburg, and First Lady Michelle Obama introduced the Proposed Rule on Food Labeling: Revision of the Nutrition and Supplement Facts Labels, as part of celebrations and announcements around the fourth anniversary of the Let's Move! initiative. 

Found on nearly 700,000 products nation-wide, the Nutrition Facts label is undergoing its first major revision since 1994. 

“For 20 years consumers have come to rely on the iconic nutrition label to help them make healthier food choices,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D. “To remain relevant, the FDA’s newly proposed Nutrition Facts label incorporates the latest in nutrition science as more has been learned about the connection between what we eat and the development of serious chronic diseases impacting millions of Americans.”

Current versus Proposed Nutrition Labels

Current_Nutrition_Label ProposedNutritionLabel DualColumn_NFL

Image Source: FDA

"Our guiding principle here is very simple: that you as a parent and a consumer should be able to walk into your local grocery store, pick up an item off the shelf, and be able to tell whether it's good for your family," said First Lady Michelle Obama. "So this is a big deal, and it's going to make a big difference for families all across this country."

The newly proposed nutrition facts label reflects the latest in food science information, addressing the link between diet and chronic illness. "To help address obesity, one of the most important public health problems facing our country, the proposed label would drive attention to calories and serving sizes," said Michael Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine at the FDA.

Major Changes Between Current and Proposed Nutrition Facts Labels

  • Update Serving Size Requirements. By law, serving sizes must be based on what people actually eat, not what people "should" be eating. The proposal requires calorie and nutrition information for the whole package of certain food products that could be consumed in one sitting. 
  • Increase prominence of serving size and calorie count on label
  • Dual Column Labels. This will indicate both "per serving" and "per package" calorie and nutrition information for larger packages that could be consumed in one sitting or multiple sittings. 
  • Require declaration of sugars. The proposed rule would require declaration of “Added sugars," indented under “Sugars,” to help consumers understand how much sugar is naturally occurring and how much has been added to the product.
  • Move the percent daily values (%DV) to the left side of the label so they come first. Daily values are used to calculate the Percent Daily Value on the label, which is intended to help consumers understand the nutrition information in the context of a total daily diet.   
  • Remove "Calories From Fat". While continuing to require “Total Fat,” “Saturated Fat,” and “Trans Fat” on the label, “Calories from Fat” would be removed because research shows the type of fat is more important than the amount.
  • Replace Vitamin A and C with Vitamin D and Potassium. According to the FDA, Americans are not getting enough Vitamin D and potassium in their diets, referring to these two deficiencies as “nutrients of public health significance.” Calcium and Iron will still be required on the nutrition label, and Vitamin A and C may be included on a voluntary basis. 
  • Revise Daily Values. Proposed changes for the daily values of certain nutrients include:
    • Sodium - decrease from 2400 mg to 2300 mg
    • Dietary fiber - increase from 25 mg to 28 mg
    • Vitamin D - change from 400 international units to 20 micrograms
  • Increase record-keeping requirements. Currently, there are no analytical methods that can distinguish between dietary fiber and non-digestible carbohydrates that do not meet the definition of dietary fiber; added and naturally occurring sugars; the various forms of vitamin E; or folate and folic acid. Also, there are no analytical methods that can determine the amount of added sugar in specific foods containing added sugars alone or in combinations with naturally occurring sugars, where the added sugars are subject to fermentation. Therefore, for the products with these ingredients, FDA is proposing that manufacturers must make and keep certain written records for two (2) years in order to verify their declarations of each of these nutrients in the labeling of the food associated with such records. 

These proposed changes are estimated to cost approximately $2 billion. Food manufacturers will have approximately two years to comply with the new Nutrition Facts label requirements after the effective date.

Industry Reaction from Beth Johnson, Food Directions, LLC 

Elizabeth Johnson of D.C. advisory firm Food Directions, LLC, recently shared her expertise on the topic of labeling during a February TraceGains webinar entitled: Imminent Labeling Changes. When asked to continue the labeling discussion in light of the proposed rules, Johnson had the following to say:

What is your reaction generally to the proposed new design?  

"Generally I think it makes sense to increase the prominence of calories on package as well as the amount of servings per package. While I question if consumers really understand that serving size reflects what consumers are actually eating instead of recommended amounts, by law they must be based on what people actually eat, not on what people 'should' be eating. From a nutrition perspective, I hope a great deal of education occurs to help consumers truly understand the changes to the label and how they can incorporate the information into making healthy choices." 

What are the major issues/push back from industry likely to be? 

"While industry has been anticipating some of the changes, a few of the major issues of concern are likely to be increases and decreases in serving sizes, addition of added sugar, and the alternative label suggested. This concept indicates 'quick facts' (e.g., amount of total carbohydrate, fat and protein) about a product’s nutrient content first, and then explicitly points out nutrients to "avoid too much" of as well as nutrients to 'get enough' of as a way to categorize the nutrient declarations in the Nutrition Facts label. Given the lack of interest and understanding of the label by the majority of the population, many will  question whether this alternative label will help or hurt. Specifically, will consumers understand how to 'get enough' or 'avoid too much' of the specified nutrients."

How will industry feel about added sugar being verified through record keeping instead of analytical testing? 

"I anticipate major push back from the industry on added sugars. This is because there are no analytical methods that can distinguish added and naturally occurring sugars. FDA recognizes this issue so is suggesting  record keeping  as a way to verify their declarations of each of these nutrients in the labeling of the food associated with such records. Not only does this add another record keeping burden -- at the same time companies are having to increase record keeping for new food safety rule implementation, it does little to help consumers from a physiological aspect. Total sugars, which are already listed on the label, is still most important, from a physiological point of view, since the body can't distinguish between added vs. natural sugars."

Submit Comment on Proposed Rules by June 2, 2014

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Proposed Rule: Food Labeling: Revision of the Nutrition and Supplement Facts Labels

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Proposed Rule: Food Labeling: Serving Sizes of Foods That Can Reasonably Be Consumed at One-Eating Occasion; Dual-Column Labeling; Updating, Modifying, and Establishing Certain Reference Amounts Customarily Consumed; Serving Size for Breath Mints; and Technical Amendments

Additional Resources: 

Imminent Labeling Changes (Webinar with Food Directions, LLC)

What's the Difference Info-graphic (PDF)

Tags: Labeling, FDA, Regulations