February 28, 2014 in Business

Makeover proposed for food nutrition labels

Mary Clare Jalonick And Darlene Superville Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

This photo shows the “nutrition facts” label on the side of a cereal box. The Food and Drug Administration is rethinking the content of the food nutrition label and proposing changes.
(Full-size photo)

Proposed changes

The White House and the Food and Drug Administration are proposing an overhaul of the “nutrition facts” labels on food packages. Among the possible changes:

• Calories displayed more prominently.

• A new line for “added sugars” – those sugars that aren’t naturally occurring and are added in processing.

• Serving sizes updated to reflect the amount of food people really eat. By law, the FDA has to create the labels based on how much people eat, not what they should eat. This means per-serving calorie counts on the package would be more meaningful.

• Dual listing of nutrients per serving and nutrients per container for some foods. These are items like frozen dinners or a can of soup that could be consumed in a single sitting.

• A listing for nutrients that Americans need more of, such as potassium and vitamin D.

• “Calories from fat” would be removed because it’s confusing. The type of fat is more important than the amount.

WASHINGTON – Ice cream lovers beware: The government knows you’re unlikely to stop after half a cup.

New nutrition labels proposed Thursday for many popular foods, including ice cream, aim to more accurately reflect what people actually eat. And the proposal would make calorie counts on labels more prominent, too, reflecting that nutritionists now focus more on calories than fat.

For the first time, labels also would be required to list any sugars that are added by manufacturers.

In one example of the change, the estimated serving size for ice cream would jump from a half cup to a cup, so the calorie listing on the label would double as well.

The idea behind the change, the first overhaul of the labels in two decades, isn’t that the government thinks people should be eating twice as much; it’s that they should understand how many calories are in what they already are eating. The Food and Drug Administration says that, by law, serving sizes must be based on actual consumption, not some ideal.

“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,” said first lady Michelle Obama, who joined the FDA in announcing the proposed changes at the White House.

Michelle Obama made the announcement as part of her Let’s Move initiative to combat child obesity, which is marking its fourth anniversary. On Tuesday, she announced new Agriculture Department rules that would reduce marketing of less-healthful foods in schools.

The new labels would be less cluttered. FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg called them “a more user-friendly version.”

But they are probably several years away. The FDA will take comments on the proposal for 90 days, and a final rule could take another year. Once it’s final, the agency has proposed giving industry two years to comply.

The agency projects food companies will have to pay around $2 billion to revise labels. Companies have resisted some of the changes in the past, including listing added sugars, but the industry is so far withholding criticism.

Pamela Bailey of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the industry group that represents the nation’s largest food companies, called the proposal a “thoughtful review.”

It is still not yet clear what the final labels will look like. The FDA offered two labels in its proposal – one that looks similar to the current version but is shorter and clearer and another that groups the nutrients into a “quick facts” category for things like fat, carbohydrates, sugars and proteins.

There also would be an “avoid too much” category for saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, sodium and added sugar, and a “get enough” section with vitamin D, potassium, calcium, iron and fiber. Potassium and vitamin D are would be additions, based on current thinking that Americans aren’t getting enough of those nutrients. Vitamin C and vitamin A listings are no longer required. Both versions list calories above all of those nutrients in large, bold type.

Serving sizes have long been misleading, with many single-serving packages listing themselves as multiple servings, so the calorie count appears lower.

Under the proposed rules, both 12-ounce and 20-ounce sodas would be considered one serving, and many foods that are often eaten in one sitting – a bag of chips, a can of soup or a frozen entree, for example – would either be newly listed as a single serving or would list nutrient information both by serving and by container.

The inclusion of added sugars to the label was one of the biggest revisions. Nutrition advocates have long asked for that line on the label because it’s impossible for consumers to know how much sugar in an item is naturally occurring, like that in fruit and dairy products, and how much is added by the manufacturer.

According to the Agriculture Department’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, added sugars contribute an average of 16 percent of the total calories in U.S. diets.

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