Nutrition Facts 2.0
by Jay Sjerven
The Food and Drug Administration on Feb. 27 unveiled its proposed revisions to the Nutrition Facts panel. Notable proposed changes include bringing much greater emphasis to calories with dramatically larger and bolder type, requiring information on the amount of sugars added during the food manufacturing process, and updating serving sizes to reflect amounts people currently eat. The proposed changes would constitute the first overhaul of the Nutrition Facts panel since it was created in 1993.
The F.D.A. is dividing the proposed Nutrition Facts label changes into two proposed rules. One would update the label’s nutrition information based on the latest nutrition science as well as the label design itself to highlight important information, particularly calories. The second proposed rule covers the changes to serving size requirements and labeling for certain package sizes.
Both proposed rules have been published in the Federal Register, and the F.D.A. will accept public comment on the proposals during the next 90 days. Rulemaking will take some time, and even after the F.D.A. develops a final rule, the agency said it intended to give the food industry up to two years to implement the changes.
The F.D.A. said it based its proposal to require disclosure of “added sugars” on the Nutrition Facts panel on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which said the intake of added sugars is too high in the U.S. population. The F.D.A. asserted that on average, Americans consume 16% of their daily calories from sugars added during food manufacturing.
“Some people are eating too many foods with ‘added sugars’ and are not getting all of the other nutrients they need,” said Claudine Kavanaugh, an F.D.A. scientist involved in preparing the agency’s proposed rules.
With regard to changes to how serving sizes are reported, the F.D.A. said what and how much people eat and drink has changed dramatically since it created the Nutrition Facts label in 1993. In that year, the standard used to determine serving sizes — called the reference amounts customarily consumed (RACCs) — were based on surveys of food consumption conducted in 1977-78 and 1987-88. The RACCs are used by manufacturers to calculate the serving sizes on their packages.
“We now have much more recent food consumption data, and it’s showing that some serving sizes on food labels should be changed,” said Mary Poos, deputy director of F.D.A.’s Office of Nutrition, Labeling and Dietary Supplements. For example, Dr. Poos said, serving sizes for a large muffin have become larger over the years, and people consume an entire muffin in one sitting, and not a half or a third.
In the instance of a muffin, the F.D.A. proposed to change the serving size to 110 grams from the current 55 grams to reflect the size of muffins currently consumed in a single sitting. In the case of ice cream, calories and other nutrition information would be based on a serving size of one cup versus the current serving size of a half-cup because it was typical consumers eat more than a half-cup of ice cream in a single sitting.
“By law, serving sizes must be based on what people actually eat, not on what people ‘should’ be eating,” the F.D.A. said.
Indications were about 17% of around 157 food categories overseen by the F.D.A. will see adjustments in serving sizes.
Other proposed changes to the Nutrition Facts panel include:
• Present “dual column” labels to indicate both “per serving” and “per package” calorie and nutrition information for larger packages that may be consumed in one sitting or multiple sittings.
• Require the declaration of potassium and vitamin D, nutrients that some in the U.S. population are not getting enough of, which puts them at higher risk for chronic disease. Vitamin D is important for its role in bone health. Potassium is beneficial in lowering blood pressure. Vitamins A and C would no longer be required on the label, though manufacturers may declare them voluntarily.
• Revise the daily values for a variety of nutrients such as sodium, dietary fiber and vitamin D. Daily values are used to calculate the per cent daily value on the label, which aims to help consumers understand the nutrition information in the context of a total daily diet.
• While continuing to require “total fat,” “saturated fat,” and “trans fat” on the label, “calories from fat” would be removed because research has shown the type of fat is more important than the amount, the F.D.A. said.
• Refresh the label’s format to emphasize certain elements, such as calories, serving sizes and per cent daily value, which are important in addressing public health problems such as obesity and heart disease.
Far reaching ramifications
Michael R. Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary, said the F.D.A. estimated the cost to industry for adopting the new label would be around $2.3 billion over 20 years. Public health benefits over the same span were estimated by the F.D.A. at $20 billion to $30 billion, he said.
It is difficult to overstate just how far-reaching the proposed changes are to the food industry. Relabeling will be costly, of course, but as important will be changes in marketing and pricing.
The food industry will provide formal comments in the coming weeks, but its various associations, while expressing some concerns with certain proposed changes, indicated they looked forward to working with the F.D.A. to develop a new Nutrition Facts panel that will improve consumer understanding about the foods they eat.
Andrew C. Briscoe, president and chief executive officer of the Sugar Association, said while his organization shares the F.D.A.’s concerns about obesity and its adverse effects on long-term health, “We also endorse rigorous scientific research that provides the meaningful and unambiguous data required for labeling guidance. Therefore, we question the scientific justification to support ‘added sugars’ labeling. Major reviews of the scientific literature, including those undertaken by the Institute of Medicine and the European Food Safety Authority did not find a public health need to make this distinction in the Nutrition Facts panel.
“’Added sugars’ labeling will only distract from the focus on monitoring total caloric intake and scientifically verified interventions to deal with obesity. Consequently, the addition of the ‘added sugars’ subcategory will not be helpful to consumers, and lacks scientific merit.
“Further, we are also surprised the F.D.A. proposed a subcategory of ‘added sugars’ on the food label when it has previously stated that it will not be able to test food or beverage products to determine the content of ‘added sugars’ and that ‘it should not promulgate regulations that it cannot enforce.’ The proposed subcategory is also problematic in that the term ‘added sugars’ inaccurately lumps together sugar (sucrose) with other caloric sweeteners, when there are well recognized differences between such sweeteners.”
John W. Bode, president and c.e.o. of the Corn Refiners Association, said he was pleased the F.D.A. has begun the process of creating a new Nutrition Facts panel and that it was appropriate that the agency do so.
“We will study the proposals closely, and in our comments, we will closely and carefully follow the science,” he said. “We were a little surprised, though, by the ‘added sugar’ break out because we are unaware of any science that supports the making of that distinction.”
Mr. Bode said corn refiners also will study the proposals on serving size, “but this will require further review of the literature.”
A spokeswoman for the Snack Food Association told Food Business News the group will continue to review the Nutrition Facts panel and serving size proposals and their impact on the products it represents.
The association and its member companies support science-based information to help consumers make healthier food choices, she said.
“S.F.A.’s member companies have been leaders in developing 100-calorie packages to help consumers manage portion sizes and calories,” she said. “Additionally, we continue to work on reformulating products to add whole grains and reduce calories, sodium and fat. Because much of our product portfolio is in the savory snack category, we have not focused on the added sugar component. However, to the extent that it does affect our members, we have concerns given that there are no analytical methods that can distinguish added from naturally occurring sugars. Additionally, and more importantly, from a physiological perspective, the body doesn’t distinguish the difference either.
“The S.F.A. is particularly concerned about ensuring that our industry has adequate time to implement the rule once it is final. Given the high cost of producing new labeling for packages containing the revised information, we will be seeking sufficient time for the changes to be made in a cost effective manner. This may mean suggesting a longer window of time to allow for products featuring the current Nutrition Facts label to phase out before companies are penalized so that high-quality, safe food is not sent to landfills. It is important to remember that these rules affect approximately 700,000 food products that will have to be relabeled — with a limited number of labeling companies to make it happen. Adequate time is essential.”
The American Bakers Association said it looks forward to working with the F.D.A. on updating the Nutrition Facts panel and product serving sizes. A statement issued by the association said, “From an initial review, A.B.A. believes there are positive opportunities for bakers to promote the healthy benefits of their products but also a few areas that could be potentially problematic.”
Specifically, the A.B.A. said it will provide comments to F.D.A. on key issues, including: the proposed new required line for added sugars; the proposed reduction of the sodium daily value to 2,300 mg from 2,400 mg; the proposed increase in the fiber daily value to 28 grams from 25 grams per day; the proposed increase in calcium daily value to 1,300 mg from 1,000 mg; the new required listing of vitamin D and potassium; the proposed format changes (prominence of calorie changes, servings per container, and the shifting of the per cent daily value from the right to left side of the panel), and the proposed deletion of the ‘calories from fat’ line. The A.B.A. also said it intended to review and provide comments on proposed bakery serving size changes.
Jim Mulhern, president and c.e.o. of the National Milk Producers Federation, said, “As we review the details of today’s announcement on proposed food label changes, we are open to improvements that will help consumers make informed choices. We applaud the provision to highlight a food’s dietary contribution of potassium and vitamin D — two nutrients most Americans are not consuming enough of. Milk is a great source of those, as well as two other key nutrients, calcium and protein, that are already highlighted on the current Nutrition Facts panel. This change will help consumers better understand the important role that dairy plays in a healthy diet.
“There are some parts of the proposal that need greater clarification, such as the definition of ‘added sugars,’ and we look forward to working with the F.D.A. to address these issues.”
New nutrition label may spark greater interest
As the Food and Drug Administration unveils its proposed changes to the Nutrition Facts panel, results from an ongoing study conducted by the NPD Group indicated consumer interest or use of the current label has waned in recent years. At the same time, the study suggested consumer attention may be rekindled with the appearance of a new Nutrition Facts label.
The NPD Group’s ongoing food and beverage market research indicated most consumers read the Nutrition Facts label when it first appeared, but as time passed, many stopped checking the label for what’s in their food.
For the past several years, NPD asked consumers their level of agreement with the following statement: “I frequently check labels to determine whether the foods I buy contain anything I’m trying to avoid.”
In 1990, after the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) was passed, 65% of consumers completely or mostly agreed with the statement. That percentage decreased to 60% in 1994, shortly before the Nutrition Facts labels began appearing on food packaging, and rose to 64% in 1995 after the labels were on food packaging. Since 1995, the percentages of consumers in agreement with the statement have ranged from a high of 61% to a low of 48% in 2013, according to NPD. But that didn’t mean consumers lost interest in seeking nutritious food.
“The mostly likely reason for this decline is that the effort succeeded in educating Americans about what’s in their food,” said Harry Balzer, NPD’s chief industry analyst. “After all, how many times do you need to look at the Nutrition Facts label on your favorite cereal, or your favorite juice, and any other food you routinely consume?”
Mr. Balzer said the top five things consumers look for on the panel are calories, total fat, sugar, sodium, and calories from fat.
“It is a safe bet that Americans now want more information, but be careful, there are always new issues that come up every few years,” he said. “If the Nutrition Facts label is to continue to educate, it should allow for changes more often than once every 20 years. For example, gluten, probiotics, and omega-3 were not on the radar screen 20 years ago.”