White House unveils updated nutrition label

By Daniel Enoch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, May 20, 2016 - The White House today unveiled the first major update of the Nutrition Facts label for packaged foods in more than 20 years, which will include, among other things, a line that clearly states the amount of sugar added to the product during processing.

The revamped format of the label, found on nearly 800,000 products, will highlight other key information, such as calories and servings per container. It also replaces out-of-date serving sizes to better reflect the amount consumers actually eat.

First lady Michelle Obama was to formally announce that the Food and Drug Administration had completed its long-awaited rule for the revised labels in a speech in Washington at the Partnership for a Healthier America's annual summit. Details of the new label were released earlier by the White House.

“I am thrilled that the FDA has finalized a new and improved Nutrition Facts label that will be on food products nationwide,” Michelle Obama said in the White House release. “This is going to make a real difference in providing families across the country the information they need to make healthy choices.”

Lets Talk Food

The major changes to the Nutrition Facts label include:

• A more prominent display of “calories,” “servings,” and “servings per container.”

• Requirements for declaring the amount of “Added Sugars” in a food product. This is consistent with the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the Institute of Medicine's determination that calorie intake from added sugar is too high in the U.S. population and should be reduced.

• Updated serving size requirements to reflect the amounts people currently eat. What and how much people eat and drink has changed since the serving sizes were first put into place in 1993.  By law, serving sizes must be based on the portion consumers actually eat.

• “Dual column” labels to highlight both “per serving” and “per package” calorie and nutrition information for the whole package of certain food products.

• An abbreviated footnote better explaining percent Daily Value.

• An updated list of nutrients required to be declared based off of public health significance. Vitamin D and potassium -- nutrients Americans often do not get enough of -- will be required. Calcium and iron will continue to be required. Vitamins A and C are no longer required but can be included on a voluntary basis.

“For more than 20 years, Americans have relied on the Nutrition Facts label as a leading source of information regarding calories, fat and other nutrients to help them understand more about the foods they eat in a day,” FDA Commissioner Robert Califf said. “The updated label makes improvements to this valuable resource so consumers can make more informed food choices - one of the most important steps a person can take to reduce the risk of heart disease and obesity.”

Compliance will be required two years from today, the White House said. Manufacturers with less than $10 million in annual food sales will have an additional year to comply.

The health and nutrition advocacy group, Center for Science in the Public Interest, praised the new label.

“Right now, it's impossible for consumers who look at a Nutrition Facts label to know how much of the sugar in foods is added and how that amount fits into a reasonable daily diet,” said Michael F. Jacobson, president of CSPI, which first petitioned the FDA to put added sugars on Nutrition Facts labels in 1999.  “Besides helping consumers make more informed choices, the new labels should also spur food manufacturers to add less sugar to their products.”

The new Daily Value for added sugars will be 50 grams, or about 12 teaspoons-an amount representing 10 percent of the daily 2,000 calories recommended for many adults, CSPI said.  Once the rules are implemented, the Nutrition Facts label on a 20-ounce bottle of Coke, for example, would likely show that it had 130 percent of the added sugars limit for a day. The new labels will help consumers looking at labels for foods like yogurt, jams, or cereals know how much of the sugar comes from fruit or milk, and how much comes from high-fructose corn syrup or other added sugars.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association also had praise for the new label, commending FDA for its “significant investment of time and resources to update this important tool for consumers.”

“This update is timely as diets, eating patterns and consumer preferences have changed dramatically since the Nutrition Facts panel was first introduced,” Dr. Leon Bruner, GMA's chief science officer, said in a statement. “Food and beverage manufacturers have responded by creating more than 30,000 healthier product choices since 2002, and by providing tools like “Facts Up Front” front-of-pack labels and our SmartLabel ingredient information initiative.”

GMA also called for a “robust consumer education effort” to make sure consumers aren't confused by the new label and how it can be used “to make informed choices and maintain healthful dietary practices.”

The White House, noting that more than three-quarters of U.S. adults report using the Nutrition Facts label when buying a food product, said the revamped label is a significant landmark achievement supporting the first lady's “Let's Move!” initiative in its ongoing efforts to support raising a healthier generation.

The Sugar Association, which represents cane and sugar beet growers and processers, said it was “disappointed” with the FDA's decision to require the “added sugars” declaration and daily reference value (DRV) on the revamped label.

“The extraordinary contradictions and irregularities, as well as the lack of scientific justification in this rulemaking process are unprecedented for the FDA. We are concerned that the ruling sets a dangerous precedent that is not grounded in science, and could actually deter us from our shared goal of a healthier America,” the Sugar Association said in an e-mailed statement.

The association said FDA “has openly admitted” it deviated from factors traditionally considered for mandatory declaration of nutrients on the NFL, such as chronic disease and health related conditions. “Instead, FDA arbitrarily selected from general dietary guidance and science of low evidentiary value to support its proposal for ‘added sugars' labeling and to set a DRV. FDA also ignored comment from the European Commission inviting them to reconsider their position, citing lack of distinction between total and added sugars.”

It also criticized FDA for its single-ingredient focus,

“As with the backfire of single-nutrient emphasis on reducing fat in the 1990s, added sugars labeling may undermine consumer efforts to have healthier diets. FDA's own Obesity Working Group report, ‘Calories Count,' recommended that labeling should deemphasize individual macronutrients in the Nutrition Facts Panel and emphasize the caloric contribution of a product.” 

“Rehashing the failed policies of the past by focusing on a single nutrient and not calories may once again prove unsuccessful in improving health outcomes and result in consumer confusion, ultimately undermining consumer trust and increasing consumer apathy, something we can ill afford as we search for meaningful solutions to the complex problem of obesity.” (Click here to see the comments the Sugar Association submitted to FDA regarding “added sugars” labeling.)

 

(This story was updated at 11:25 a.m. to include comment from the Sugar Association.)

 

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