The Food and Drug Administration said on Thursday
that its proposal would also ensure that the amount of calories
listed per serving reflects the portions that people typically eat.
That change may result in per-serving calorie counts doubling for
some foods such as ice cream.
First lady Michelle Obama, who has used her White House position to
launch the "Let's Move" campaign to fight childhood obesity,
announced the proposal for the FDA.
The principle behind the updates are "very simple," Obama said in a
statement. "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."
While the FDA already requires companies to list the amount of sugar
in a product, under the proposal they would also be required to list
the amount of added sugar. Natural sugar is contained in fruits.
Added sugar includes corn syrup and concentrated juice as well as
white and brown sugar.
In addition, the labeling on vitamin content would change, with
companies required to list the amount of potassium and vitamin D.
Currently, companies are required to list the amounts of vitamin A
and vitamin C, but the FDA said deficiencies in vitamin D and
potassium are more likely.
Dr. David Kessler, who was commissioner of the FDA when the original
labels were created, said the proposed update is a "critically
important" advance in public health.
"The food label is not just about giving consumers information but
about creating incentives for the industry to create healthier
products," he said in an interview. "No company wants their product
to look bad on the food label."
The FDA estimated the cost to industry of updating the labels will
be about $2 billion while the benefit to consumers is estimated at
between $20 billion to $30 billion.
The updates would take another three years or so to take effect.
First there will be a 90-day public comment period, after which the
FDA will draw up final rules. Once finalized, companies will have
two years to comply with the regulations.
"It is critical that any changes are based on the most current and
reliable science," Pamela Bailey, president and chief executive of
the Grocery Manufacturers Association, said in a statement. "Equally
as important is ensuring that any changes ultimately serve to
inform, and not confuse, consumers."
The trade group represents food, beverage and consumer products
MORE CALORIES FOR CHUBBY HUBBY?
In addition to having calorie counts displayed in a larger font,
consumers may also get something of a wake-up call with the proposed
changes in per-serving calorie counts.
By law, serving sizes must reflect the amount consumers typically
eat, yet serving sizes listed on many packaged goods often differ
wildly from what people actually eat. A serving of ice cream, for
example, is currently listed as half a cup. Yet few people stop at
half a cup.
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Under the FDA's proposal, a serving of ice cream would be a cup,
doubling the calorie count and potentially giving consumers pause as
they survey their options. The number of calories in a serving of
Ben & Jerry's Chubby Hubby ice cream, for example, would be about
660 instead of the current 330.
By contrast, the serving size for yogurt would fall from the current
level of 8 ounces to the more commonly consumed 6 ounces, the FDA
In the case of packages that can be consumed in multiple
sittings, such as family-sized bags of potato chips, manufacturers
would have to provide two labels, one to show the nutritional
information "per serving" and the other to provide the "per package"
FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said the proposed label change
reflects what "has been learned about the connection between what we
eat and the development of serious chronic diseases impacting
millions of Americans."
Even so, the extent to which nutritional labels affect consumer
behavior is unclear.
"The evidence is thin and highly variable," said Alice Lichtenstein,
a professor of nutrition science and policy at Tufts University.
Christopher Waldrop, director of the Consumer Federation of
America's Food Policy Institute, said it is "hard to parse the
impact of the nutrition facts label."
The updated labeling would reflect advances in scientific knowledge
about sugars and fats. Companies would be required to list the
amount of total fat, saturated fat and trans fat in a product but
would no longer have to list calories from fat since the type of fat
consumed is more important than the amount, the FDA said.
In November the agency proposed banning artificial trans fats, long
associated with an increased risk of heart disease, in processed
The current nutritional information is based on a 2,000
calorie-a-day diet. The FDA said it has not yet established whether
that figure will remain or be changed.
The proposed changes would affect all packaged foods except certain
meat, poultry and processed egg products, which are regulated by the
U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service.
(Reporting by Toni Clarke in Washington;
Additional reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Leslie Adler)
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