3 Big Changes in Food Labels Announced Today

Three proposed big changes in food labels are coming out into public view today — the first significant changes in over 20 years to the nutrition facts label. Nutrition advocates are generally thrilled. The food industry is reacting with polite restraint.
Old Nutrition Facts Label

  1. Calories go big. The calories per serving number leaps off the proposed label. It’s roughly 400% of the size of the calorie count on the old label. Combined with changes in serving size assumptions, this adjustment has potential to nudge people to smarter choices.
  2. Servings get real. Actual consumer behavior will guide what the label says is a serving size. So a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chubby Hubby ice cream will be labeled as just two servings, instead of four. Calories per serving thus double from 330 to 660.
  3. Added sugar jumps out. In addition to total sugar, labels will now list how much added sugar is in a serving. Added sugars have been getting a lot of attention from nutrition advocates, driving down their consumption by changing consumer preferences. This is a sticky issue for the food industry.

First Lady Michelle Obama is putting these changes front and center in her agenda for healthier nutrition and preventing obesity. Today she will formally announce the proposed changes as she celebrates the fourth anniversary of her signature Let’s Move campaign. Commenting on the changes, Obama says:

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. So this is a big deal, and it’s going to make a big difference for families all across this country.

Marion Nestle, a vocal critic of the food industry, seems elated, saying, “I’m kind of amazed. This proposal is really good. I had no idea they were going to come up with something so good.”

The Grocery Manufacturers Association issued a polite statement that said:

We look forward to working with the FDA and other stakeholders as these proposed updates to the Nutrition Facts label make their way through the rule making process. It is critical that any changes are based on the most current and reliable science. Equally as important is ensuring that any changes ultimately serve to inform and not confuse consumers.

FDA skated past one issue that everyone seems to be ignoring: front-of-pack labeling. For many activists, this has been a big deal and for the industry it was a big threat. The industry’s move to preempt a mandate with their own Facts Up Front initiative may have worked. Activists are so pleased with the new Nutrition Facts format that they’re not complaining — yet.

This starts a process of public review and comment that the administration hopes to complete within a year. And then implementing the changes could easily take two years, which would bring them into effect barely before the end of the Obama administration.

Click here to read more from Politico and here to read more from Reuters. Click here for more background on food labeling issues.

Spam, 1080 Calories; photograph © Joe Loong / flickr

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.