F.D.A. to hold hearing on use of nutrition symbols

by Eric Schroeder
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WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration announced it will hold a public hearing regarding the use of symbols to communicate nutrition information on food labels. The hearing is set for Sept. 10 and 11 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at The Inn & Conference Center by Marriott, University of Maryland.

The notice, published in the July 20 issue of the Federal Register, laid out several questions the F.D.A. hopes to discuss as part of the hearing. Among the questions to be discussed are:

• "In what product categories are nutrition symbols used (e.g., packaged foods, fresh produce, meat/poultry, seafood)?"

• "Which symbols are nutrient specific, and which are summary symbols based on multiple nutrients?"

• "What are consumer attitudes toward nutrition symbols?"

• "Has the inclusion of nutrition symbols on the labels of food products affected the sales of those products?"

In background information posted in the Federal Register, the F.D.A. cited a stepped-up use of symbols by domestic manufacturers and retailers to indicate nutritional quality on product labels.

"Although each symbol intends to indicate that the food product bearing the symbol is a healthful choice, each symbol program has different nutrient requirements," the F.D.A. said. "The selected nutrients and the nutrient levels required for eligibility vary among the different symbol programs in use. With the increasingly widespread availability of these symbols from manufacturers, retailers and third-party organizations, it is possible that eligible food products could bear multiple symbols."

The F.D.A. also pointed to the use of nutrition symbols on food labels in other countries, noting that these symbols "vary in their format," ranging from detailed graphic illustrations that indicate the content of a number of selected nutrients to others that simply present a single icon indicating a food is healthful.

For more information or to register for the hearing, visit www.cfsan.fda.gov/register.html.

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