A New Look at Food Labeling
Blumemthal, Dale, FDA Consumer
If a frozen pizza is 12 inches in diameter, weighs 20 ounces, contains 1,604 calories and 4,320 milligrams of sodium, and one serving is 5 ounces and contains 401 calories and 1,080 milligrams of sodium, did the slice you ate at lunch contain more, less, or the same amount of calories and sodium as the manufacturer's recommended serving size? Is that a lot of sodium or relatively little? Is the number of calories marked so you can compare brands? Did your slice of frozen pizza contain more or less cheese than the same size slice from a competing brand - or from the chain pizza restaurant down the street?
Questions like these have prompted the Food and Drug Administration to take a new look at food labels.
Federal laws governing food labeling have remained essentially unchanged since 1973, when FDA launched the first drive to develop labels that give consumers information about nutrients. At that time, the agency adopted nutrition labeling rules permitting - and in some cases requiring - foods to be labeled for their nutritional content.
Renewed interest in food labeling has followed recent studies and government reports, such as the Surgeon General k Report on Nutrition and Health and the National Academy of Sciences' Report on Diet and Health, linking diet to the risk of developing certain diseases. Public interest groups, such as the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society, stress the importance of diet to health, and consumer groups advocate food labels that are more informative and easier to read.
Some food manufacturers are using food labels to promote the supposed health benefits their products may offer by virtue of containing certain components (such as fiber) or containing smaller amounts of certain substances (such as sodium). Although traditionally not permitted by FDA, some argue that these health messages are beneficial to consumers when supported by scientific evidence.
New regulations have responded to some of these concerns. For example, a 1984 rule required that sodium content be included in nutrition labeling and defined the terms "sodium free," "low in sodium," and "reduced sodium " A 1986 proposal would define the terms cholesterol free," "low in cholesterol," and reduced cholesterol" and require that both cholesterol and fatty acid content be included in nutrition labeling whenever a claim is made that a product is low in cholesterol or saturated fats.
FDA now is considering a major overhaul of the regulations that describe food labeling policy. This stems from Americans' heightened concern about diet, and from new methods of food production, processing, packaging, and distribution technologies. The FDA announcement published in the Aug. 8, 19 89, Federal Register (vol. 54, no. 151) alerts consumers and industry to the issues the agency plans to consider in revamping the food label.
FDA will be holding a series of four hearings in late 1989. These hearings will provide a forum for public comments and suggestions on the following subjects:
FDA is seeking public comment on whether the current nutrition label requirements should be changed.
Under the 1973 regulation, nutrition labeling is required only if a nutrient is added to a food or if a nutrition claim is made about a food. Nutrition labeling is optional for all other packaged foods. Currently, about 61 percent of products regulated by FDA bear nutrition labeling. More than half of these labels have been adopted voluntarily by the manufacturer.
When nutrition labeling is provided, manufacturers must include the following information: serving size, number of servings per container, caloric content, protein, carbohydrate and fat content in grams, sodium in milligrams, and vitamin A, vitamin C, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, calcium and iron content expressed as a percentage of the U. S. Recommended Daily Allowance (U. …