F.D.A. unveils new Nutrition Facts Panel

by Jay Sjerven
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Jay Sjerven

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on May 20 unveiled its new Nutrition Facts Panel, which will replace the current label and be displayed on packaged foods as a guide to consumers seeking nutrition information. There were no surprises in the announcement as the F.D.A.’s plans for revising the label were the subject of considerable discussion and comment.

Most food industry groups, including those that had opposed some of the more controversial changes to the label, voiced acceptance of the revisions while emphasizing industry’s own efforts to provide healthier food choices. The Sugar Association, though, said it was disappointed that the updated label requires an “added sugars” declaration and daily reference value, suggesting this set “a dangerous precedent that is not grounded in science, and could actually deter us from our shared goal of a healthier America.”

The new Nutrition Facts Panel will include an updated design to highlight “calories” and “servings.” It also will provide requirements for serving sizes that more closely reflect the amounts of food that people eat.

The F.D.A. said the declaration of grams and a per cent daily value (%DV) for “added sugars” will help consumers know how much sugar has been added to a product.

“It is difficult to meet nutrient needs while staying within calorie limits if you consume more than 10% of your total daily calories from added sugars, and this is consistent with the scientific evidence supporting the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” the F.D.A. said.

Food industry accepts but does not agree with all changes.

The new regulations will require “dual-column” labels to indicate both “per-serving” and “per-package” calorie and nutrition information for certain multi-serving food products that may be consumed in one sitting or in multiple sittings. The F.D.A. said with dual-column labels available, people will be able to see how many calories and nutrients they are getting if they eat or drink the entire package or unit at one time.

For packages that are between one and two servings, such as a 20-oz soda, the calories and other nutrients will be required to be labeled as one serving because people typically consume it in one sitting.

The revised label will provide updated Daily Values for nutrients like sodium, dietary fiber and vitamin D, consistent with Institute of Medicine recommendations and the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Daily Values are reference amounts of nutrients to consume or not to exceed and are used to calculate the %DV that manufacturers include on the label.

Also a notable change, “Calories from Fat” will be removed from the label because research showed the type of fat is more important than the amount. “Total Fat,” “Saturated Fat,” and “Trans Fat” will continue to be required.

Most food manufacturers will be required to use the new label by July 26, 2018. Manufacturers with less than $10 million in annual food sales will have an additional year to comply with the new rules. The F.D.A. said it plans to conduct outreach and education efforts on the new requirements.

“Because consumers could be confused by the new label with its numerous changes, a robust consumer education effort will be needed to ensure that people continue to understand how the revised label can be used to make informed choices and maintain healthful dietary practices,” said Leon Bruner, chief scientific officer for the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

The American Beverage Association stated, “We believe that people should have clear and understandable nutrition facts about foods and beverages so that they can make informed choices that are right for themselves and their families. America’s beverage companies have supported nutrition transparency; it’s why we voluntarily placed clear calorie labels on the front of every can and bottle we produce in support of First Lady Michelle Obama’s ‘Let’s Move’ campaign in 2010.”

The Sugar Association asserted it was counterproductive to single out sugar for special treatment on the label.

“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,” the association said.

The International Dairy Foods Association said it welcomed the F.D.A.’s willingness to make “some reasonable revisions” to the Nutrition Facts Panel prior to issuing its final rules but iterated its opposition to the mandatory declaration of added sugars.

The I.D.F.A. during the comment period on the new label expressed concern about proposed changes to the serving size of ice cream. A serving of ice cream as defined by the current label is a half-cup. The F.D.A. intended to increase the serving size definition to one cup to reflect more accurately what consumers eat at one time. The I.D.F.A. claimed this would have required significant reformulation for ice creams labeled as “low fat.” Under the final rule, the serving size for larger containers of ice cream and also novelties, such as individual cups and ice cream bars, is two-thirds of a cup. The serving size for yogurt, including drinkable yogurts, will change from 8 oz to 6 oz, which was requested by the yogurt industry to align with the most popular serving size in the marketplace.

“We truly appreciate that F.D.A. listened to our concerns about revaluating the serving size for ice cream and frozen dessert products,” said Cary Frye, vice-president for regulatory and scientific affairs at the I.D.F.A.

 

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