Magazine article FDA Consumer

Wide-Sweeping FDA Proposals to Improve Food Labeling

Magazine article FDA Consumer

Wide-Sweeping FDA Proposals to Improve Food Labeling

Article excerpt

Today's nutrition-conscious consumers look to food labels for information they need to make wise choices, but, in the words of Health and Human Services Secretary Louis W. Sullivan, M.D., "Consumers need to be linguists, scientists, and mind readers to understand the many labels they encounter." To remedy this situation, the Food and Drug Administration, with the support of the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has embarked on a major effort to improve the format and content of food labels.

On Nov. 8, 1991, the agency proposed regulations covering topics such as nutrition information, serving sizes, descriptive words called descriptors," and health messages.

FDA Commissioner David A. Kessler, M.D., has stated that "the goal is simple: a label the public can understand and count on-that would bring them up-to-date with today's health concerns. It is a goal with three objectives: First, to clear up confusion; second, to help us make healthy choices; and third, to encourage product innovation, so that companies are more interested in tinkering with the food in the package, not the words on the label."

The new changes will address today's public health priorities, in which conditions linked at least in part to diet, such as heart disease and cancer, have replaced beriberi, pellagra, scurvy, and other diseases caused by dietary deficiencies that afflicted past generations.

The label reform effort began in 1989 when FDA published an advance notice of proposed rule-making and, with FSIS, held nationwide hearings to find out what consumers and industry wanted to see on food labels. Early in 1990, the agency began publishing proposals for new regulations. The proposals called for extensive changes in the information that would be allowed or required on food labels. Labels would have to give reliable information by which shoppers could judge a food's nutritional value and on which health professionals could depend to help their patients choose healthy diets.

Nutrition Labeling and Education Act

At about the same time the proposals were being published, the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990 (NLEA) became law. The legislation gives FDA'S labeling initiative a solid legal base and an accelerated timetable.

FDA continued its rule-making by publishing during the summer of 1991 proposals on:

the listing of certified color additives

the listing of ingredients in "standardized" foods such as ketchup and peanut butter

the labeling of fruit and vegetable juices

the display in grocery stores of nutrition information on the 20 most popular raw fruits, vegetables, and types of fish.

Then, in November 1991, FDA announced 20 more proposed rules, one final rule, and two notices. These:

stated that nutrition information would be required for virtually all packaged foods and spelled out the conditions for its use

defined serving sizes

defined descriptors such as "light" and "low-fat" approved certain health claims covered the technical provisions that tie the program together.

These November proposals dealt with the content of the label. Early in 1992, FDA will propose a regulation to revise the format of the nutrition label to help consumers better understand and use the nutrition information. USDA also has proposed changes in the labeling of meat and poultry, which it regulates.

Industry and consumers who wish to comment on the proposals have 90 days after their publication in the Federal Register to do so. In accord with the NLEA timetable, FDA expects that by Nov. 8, 1992, all of the proposals (revised as necessary based on public comments) will be published as final rules. The new labels will be required on all packaged foods that are produced beginning May 8, 1993, and the newly labeled products will begin to appear on store shelves later that year. …

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