Food Label “Overhaul”: What You’ll STILL Be Missing
TOMORROW the FDA is to unveil yet ANOTHER incarnation of its already-confusing food labels.
And again, they’re missing the point. The big change: the new food labels are expected to focus on CALORIES, which if you’ve been reading my articles, you already know that a calorie is NOT a calorie, and it’s not about calories!
Keep looking at the INGREDIENTS list. That is the most important information of all. Good rule of thumb: If God made it, it’s good. If man made it, it’s not. Period.
Nutrition labels set for major overhaul
Food industry groups and health advocates have not yet been briefed on the proposals.
Should a regular bag of Chex Mix be labeled as containing eight servings, or just two? Should pasta sauce jars tell how much sugar was added?
The Obama administration is expected to take a major step toward addressing questions like these on Thursday when it unveils the first update to nutrition labels on food packages in more than two decades.
The big changes coming to the iconic Nutrition Facts panel are to be rolled out Thursday, sources say, when First Lady Michelle Obama is scheduled to make an announcement in the East Room at the White House “regarding proposals to help parents and other consumers make healthier choices.” Neither White House nor Food and Drug Administration officials would confirm the timeline.
The event is part of the fourth anniversary celebration of Let’s Move!, Obama’s campaign to combat the childhood obesity epidemic.
The proposed rules, which have been in the works at FDA for more than a decade, are a high priority for the administration and have been swiftly ushered through the review process at the White House Office of Management and Budget, where they are currently listed as under review.
Food industry groups and health advocates have not yet been briefed about what, exactly, will be in the proposals, but the changes are expected to spark significant pushback from the industry.
“I haven’t seen the proposal, so I don’t know what’s in it,” said Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “I would hope that calories will be bolder, considering our obesity problem.”
Food policy experts are guessing that the changes will result in calories being displayed more prominently and serving sizes more in line with what American consumers are actually eating.
Other changes, which could be unveiled with multiple format options, might include dropping and adding certain nutrients from the list of vitamins and minerals with daily value percentages, dropping the requirement to list “calories from fat” or adding whole wheat percentages. Most experts expect the FDA will require more accurate serving sizes, as the current labels are based on decades old data on consumer consumption.
“A lot of foods that common sense dictates are a single serving size, like certain snacks and beverages, are listed as multiple servings,” explains Wootan. She wants to see those packages labeled as one serving “so people know what they’re getting.”
For example, a typical bag of peanut butter M&M’s is currently listed as two servings, at 210 calories and 13 grams of fat each. If updated data shows that most consumers wolf down the whole package of candies, they might have to be labeled as one serving with 420 calories and 26 grams of fat.
Over the years, FDA has also hinted that it might require food manufacturers declare “added sugars” on food packages, instead of just listing “sugars” which is already required. Health advocates argue that many consumers don’t realize sugar is added to an estimated 75 percent of processed foods and a label might help curb stealth sugar consumption.
But making such a change would likely be picking a big fight with the food industry, which argues that there’s no way to distinguish between added sugars and natural sugars in the lab tests they use to validate their labels.
“The thing that’s important is already there: total sugars,” said Regina Hildwine, senior director of science policy and labeling and standards at the Grocery Manufacturers Association. “That’s what consumers really should look at.”
Marion Nestle, a leading nutrition policy expert and professor at New York University, said added sugars will be one of the first things she looks for when the proposals are unveiled. It’s the “number one priority for advocates,” she said.
Nestle said she also hopes to see calories displayed more prominently.
“I want to see a label that consumers can actually understand.”
Whatever the administration proposes, GMA will be looking closely at the FDA’s scientific rationale for specific changes as well as the cost-benefit analysis out of FDA, said Hildwine.
“Everyone in the industry is going to be affected. Everyone in the industry is going to have to change their labels,” said Hildwine, who advised GMA back in the early 1990s when the Nutrition Facts were first mandated. “It’s a very big deal. It’s very expensive.”
Hildewine said she will be looking for the agency to answer several key questions in the proposals: “What was the matter with the original nutrition facts? Where did it fail? And what evidence does FDA have that this will fix it?”
Food industry attorney Stuart Pape, partner at Patton Boggs, thinks the proposals have the potential to kick up a lot of controversy in Washington, especially if the administration decides to mandate added sugars or if the proposal “blows up” the food industry’s voluntary “Facts Up Front” program, which put calories and other nutrition information in little boxes on the front of packages.
In addition to the uncertainty about what’s in the proposal, Pape also questions whether the Obama administration has time to enact such a big nutrition policy change before a new administration takes over in 2017.
“I think it’s precipitously close to not getting done on time,” said Pape, who noted that the mid-term election could slow down the process and FDA already has a full plate. “If Mike Taylor, [FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine], had nothing else on his to do list, he could get this done, but he does.”
The agency is also working on several major food policy changes, including a move to ban artificial trans fats, overhauling the nation’s food safety system, setting sodium targets for food products and a controversial final rule to require restaurant chains and “similar food establishments” post calories on their menu boards.