In March 2014, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed a “refreshed” nutrition facts label – the standard label seen on the back of most pre-packaged foods and beverages. The need for an updated label stems from new dietary recommendations as well as changes in the average portion sizes consumed by Americans.
Source: FDA Consumer Health Information
Although the two graphics are similar in nature, there are some distinct differences between the two. Some of the key differences relate to the actual nutrition content provided in the label whereas others are more aesthetic in nature. The major highlights in each category are discussed in the points below.
Changes in Label Content:
• “Added Sugars” is now a sub-category of “Sugars.” This addition is designed to aid consumers in differentiating between naturally occurring sugars (those found in fruit, for example) and added sugars (those found in sodas, cookies, and ice cream, for example).
• “Calories from Fat” will no longer be mandatory on the new nutrition facts label. Nutrition research has shown the type of fat is much more important to know than the total fat, so while “Calories from Fat” will be removed, “Total Fat”, “Saturated Fat”, and “Trans Fat” will remain on the new label.
• Vitamin A and Vitamin C will no longer be required in the vitamins and minerals section, but they will be replaced by Vitamin D and Potassium. Nutrient intake research shows Americans consume adequate amounts of Vitamins A and C, but deficiencies are much more common in Vitamin D and Potassium. Adding these to the new label will ideally bring these nutrients to consumers’ attention when making food choices.
• Beyond providing the daily recommended values of vitamins and minerals, the exact amounts of Vitamin D, Calcium, Iron, and Potassium will also be required.
• Daily values may also be revised for some nutrients. For instance, the daily recommended intake for sodium will be reduced to from 2,400 mg to 2,300 mg/day.
• The current footnote on daily values will be updated to improve consumers’ understanding. Research is still being conducted to determine the best communication format.
Changes in Label Design
• The calorie content of foods will be displayed more prominently via bolding the text and increasing the font size. The number of servings per container will also be bolded and have an increased font size compared to the current label.
• The “% Daily Value” column will be shifted to the left of the label. This move is designed to help consumers put nutrient information in context more quickly (since we read left to right, these percentages should now be one of the first pieces of information people notice).
• Rather than listing “Amount Per Serving” above “Calories”, the newly proposed label would list the actual serving size; thus, it would read “Amount per 1 cup”, for example. All sizes will be communicated using common household measures such as cups and tablespoons.
• Serving size information will be right justified, and “Servings per container” will be displayed before “Serving size” on the proposed label.
In addition to these changes, one update that may be less visible to consumers initially is the adjustment of what is considered to be an appropriate serving size. Current serving size amounts are based on consumption data that was collected in 1977-1978 and 1987-1988. More recent consumption data show many of these serving sizes have changed quite a bit within the past 20-30 years. By law, serving sizes should be based on the amounts of food and drink people customarily consume, not necessarily the amounts people should be consuming. Thus, the FDA has proposed to change approximately 17 percent of the Reference Amounts Customarily Consumed (RACCs) based on current consumption patterns. Twenty-five new RACCs will also be added for products such as breath mints, candies, etc.
Some of the biggest targets of revised serving sizes are those products that are labeled as containing multiple servings but are often consumed in one sitting. These are products such as a 20-ounce bottle of soda, a can of soup, and even a pint of ice cream. Products which contain between 150 percent and 200 percent of the RACCs (the soda and soup can, for example) will no longer be labeled as containing multiple servings. For slightly larger products that contain 200 percent – 400 percent of the RACCs, a two-column labeling format will be required where one column lists nutrition information per serving and the second columns lists nutrition information for the entire package. A pint of ice cream would be one example of a product which will be subject to this dual column labeling format.
FDA has condensed all of these adjustments into two proposed rules. The first rule pertains to the label content and design issues, while the second focuses on the reconfiguration of serving sizes. To read the specific language in these rules, click here. Each rule was open for a 90-day comment period that ended June 2nd. When the final guidelines are published, the food industry will have two years to become fully compliant.
With any public policy issue, it is important to determine how the public feels about the proposed policy – after all, the general public is who will be subject to any new regulations. Therefore, getting feedback from readers is key to improving our ability to communicate all sides of policy issues. To share your thoughts on the newly proposed nutrition facts label, please click here. We look forward to hearing what you have to say.