First lady, officials to announce nutrition labeling proposal

Published online: Feb 27, 2014
Viewed 889 time(s)

First Lady Michelle Obama, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Food and Drug Commissioner Margaret Hamburg today will announce proposed revisions to the nutrition facts label that are bound to prove controversial with industry.

The event will take place at the White House. The first lady views the updated labels as supportive of her “Let’s Move” initiative, saying the labels will help provide parents and families with access to information that helps them make healthier choices.

“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,” the first lady said in a news release that was embargoed until midnight. “So this is a big deal, and it’s going to make a big difference for families all across this country.”

The labels appear on roughly 700 products, and have been updated only once since their inception 20 years ago.

The proposed updates are intended to reflect the latest scientific information about the link between diet and chronic diseases such as obesity and heart disease, the White House said.

“The proposed label would also replace out-of-date serving sizes to better align with the amount consumers actually eat, and it would feature a fresh design to highlight key parts of the label such as calories and serving sizes,” the White House added.

The proposal will be published in the Federal Register and a 90-day comment period will begin today, administration officials said in a telephone briefing for reporterson Wednesday.

FDA plans to finish the final rule by 2015 and to give companies two years to comply with it.

But many companies are likely to use the new labels as soon as they have them ready, an official said in the briefing. The expected cost to industry is expected to be $2 billion.

There will be $20 billion to $30 billion in benefits to the American people, an official said, without providing details on how that calculation was made or exactly what those benefits would be.

According to the White House, some of the FDA’s proposed changes to the nutrition facts label are:

? Require information about the amount of “added sugars” in a food product, based on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans determination that calorie intake from added sugar is too high and should be reduced. The label will list sugars (including naturally occurring sugars) with a subset for “added sugars.”

? Update serving size requirements to reflect the amounts people eat, which the FDA has changed since the serving sizes were established in 1994. By law, serving sizes must be based on the portion consumers actually eat, rather than the amount they “should” be eating.

The label on soft drinks, for example, would reflect the size of the entire can or bottle, and 20-ounce bottles will be listed as a single serving. Ice cream serving size will rise from one-half cup to one cup while the serving size for yoghurt will go down from 8 ounces to 6 ounces because most yoghurt containers are only 6 ounces.

? Print calorie and nutrition information for the whole package of certain food products that could be consumed in one sitting or in multiple sittings.
? Refresh the format to emphasize certain elements, such as calories, serving sizes and percent daily value, which are important in addressing public health problems like obesity and heart disease.

The food industry is expected to oppose some of the provisions, particularly the one on added sugars, and FDA will listen to those comments, the officials said.

But one official added, “We feel very confident [about the science] for the basis of including added sugars.”

The nutrition facts labels will also be required for foods that were not commonly on the market 20 years ago. Among the products that will now require labels will potstickers, carob powder and sun dried tomatoes.