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FDA proposes new food label regime in US

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Food labels on the shelves in US stores will change significantly if proposals by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are adopted.

The proposals aim to make nutritional information easier to read and understand as part of the drive to improve public health. The current Nutrition Facts panel appeared on the shelves in USA in 1993 and was created to educate consumers about a healthy balanced diet. The new proposals come after years of research by scholars and feedback from the public.

Such an important change is a key part of the public administration’s fight against obesity and NCDs (“non communicable diseases”) such as diabetes and strokes. The changes, proposed in two different acts, mean:

  • It will be mandatory to provide information about “added sugars”.

This information will allow the consumer to check for the total of added sugar in the finished products. The experts recommend a low intake of calories from sugars, especially those added. The World Health Organisation recently published recommendations for a maximum intake of 10% on the daily total calories.

  • An indication of the amount of Potassium and Vitamin D will be mandatory, while the declaration of vitamin A and C will be made exclusively on a voluntary basis.

According to the FDA, the more important nutrients for public health should be calcium, iron, potassium and vitamin D. The first two are already indicated on labels. The last two will be included as mandatory after an amendment proposed by the FDA: Vitamin D for its function on growth and maintenance of bones and potassium because it lowers blood pressure. The inclusion of vitamin A and C will no longer be required because in the diets of US citizens generally there are no large deficiencies of these nutrients.

  • The indication of “total fat”, “satured fat” and “trans fat” will be mandatory.

There will be no need to indicate the total calories from fat any more, because research has shown that it is more important to know the type of fat, rather than the amount of calories.

  •  Daily values for some nutrients, such as dietary fibre, and vitamin D (% DV), will be revised;
  •  Daily values for sodium will be revised, with a reduction from 2,400 mg to 2,300 mg.

This last change, heavily sponsored by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), might see a further lowering of the DV to 1500 mg, as recommended by the CSPI.

The new rules also introduce a new design for the labels, in order to promote a better understanding and to get consumers to focus on the most relevant information.

A bolder, larger font size will be used for the total calories indication and for the serving size indication. Daily values percentages will be displayed more clearly in the left-hand column, and footnotes will better explain definitions.

Finally, assumptions about serving sizes will change. Over 20 years, eating habits have changed and the FDA feels it is wise to assume portion sizes have increased. Information given should, says the FDA, reflect what pepole actually eat, rather than what they should eat.

The proposed rules appeared in the Federal Register on Monday, 3rd March 2014 and a comment period of up to 90 days, ending up on 2nd June 2014, granted. The FDA plans to finalise the new rules by 2015, giving operators a transitional period of two years to adapt their labels.

Cesare Varallo is a food lawyer and founder of foodlawlatest.com