Labeling changes

by Allison Sebolt
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Currently, the Food and Drug Administration is looking into the possibility of changing reference values used in nutrition labeling, and while revisions might not happen for a period of time, the impacts could be far-reaching.

In the Nov. 2, 2007, issue of the Federal Register, the F.D.A. issued a notice of proposed rulemaking to request comment on what new reference values should be used to calculate the per cent daily value in the Nutrition Facts and Supplement Facts labels and what factors the agency should consider in establishing new reference values.

The F.D.A. also requested comment on whether it should require certain nutrients to be added or removed from the Nutrition Facts and Supplement Facts labels.

Why so many potential changes at once?

"If you are using new scientific benchmarks for computing the per cent daily value, you might want to look at the structure of the nutrition label as well," said Regina Hildwine, senior director of food labeling and standards at the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

Ms. Hildwine said it would take time for changes to come to fruition, but aspects being discussed include what the reference values for computing per cent daily values should be, how industry should communicate changes to consumers, how to ensure consumers are using nutrition labels appropriately, and what issues related to the format of the nutrition label possibly need to be changed.

"Future F.D.A. proposals or notices leading to rulemaking for nutrition labeling must be assessed comprehensively across the food label — reference values, nutrition labeling content and format, nutrient content claims, health claims, allergen, ingredient declaration and other mandatory label elements presentation and regulations. Incremental changes to the food label simply are not in the best interest of either consumers or the food industry," the Grocery Manufacturers Association said in its response to the F.D.A.’s request for comment on the topic.

Fergus Clydesdale, food and science department head and the University of Massachusetts, said he is confident the F.D.A. will revise the nutrition label in coming years, but he said it is important not to continually revise the labels as it is a large effort that is very costly. He said it’s important to be as current as possible, to reflect science as much as possible and have something that is consumer tested.

The G.M.A. also said in its comments to the F.D.A. that consumer education is essential.

"It is apparent from consumer research … that despite 15 years of exposure to the Nutrition Facts Panel, consumers have serious misunderstandings about the elements and overall purpose of the current Nutrition Facts Panel," the G.M.A. said. "G.M.A. strongly believes that this is a failure that cannot be permitted to endure. Therefore, G.M.A. encourages F.D.A., in the strongest possible terms, to develop strategies for nutrition label education, concurrent with the development of any proposed rules."

In other labeling issues, Ms. Hildwine said there is significant interest among food companies in emphasizing calories in packaging. In addition, she said there are companies experimenting with entire package nutrition labeling, which represents the consequences of consuming an entire package. This practice is especially common in snack-type foods. Repeating and displaying key nutrition information from the nutrition label in a more prominent space on pack is another trend picking up popularity.

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