FDA Unveils Updates to Nutrition Facts Panel

Neil Martinez-Belkin

On Friday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) pulled back the curtain on an updated Nutrition Facts panel that will appear on nearly all packaged food and beverage products sold in the United States.

The FDA revealed the new labels in a press release in which First Lady Michelle Obama – who has played an active role in efforts to update the Nutrition Facts panel since 2014 – said the label changes “make a real difference in providing families across the country information they need to make healthy choices.”

FDAlabel970-1At first glance, the most pronounced change to the panel is a bolder, highlighted calorie count, which now appears even larger than the Nutrition Facts header. Other significant changes, particularly relevant to the beverage industry, include a newly introduced requirement for companies to list added sugars and revised serving sizes from 8 to 12 ounces.

Justin Prochnow, a regulatory attorney and partner at Greenberg Traurig, said he could see the effect of the new labels resulting in beverage companies moving into smaller container sizes.

“Right now you have products in 24 oz. cans that are listed as three servings but that’s going to be a single serving container now,” said Prochnow. “Companies are going to have to declare the calories of all 24 ounces and they’re not going to want to list 360 calories on their cans.”

The Center for Science in the Public Interest came out in support of the label revisions in a statement Friday, with CSPI president Michael F. Jacobson saying the new labels “should spur manufacturers to add less sugar to their products.” Jacobson also championed the First Lady’s efforts to spearhead the initiative, adding that “Americans concerned about nutrition and their health owe a special debt of gratitude to the First Lady of the United States.”

Food industry trade group the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) also seems to have accepted the new requirements. GMA science officer Dr. Leon Bruner called the update “timely, as diets, eating patterns and consumer preferences have changed dramatically since the Nutrition Facts panel was first introduced [in 1993].” Still, Bruner noted that consumers may be confused by some of the changes and that the transition will require “a robust consumer education effort.”

Meanwhile, The Sugar Association expressed its disappointment in the FDA in a statement on its site.

“The extraordinary contradictions and irregularities, as well as the lack of scientific justification in this rulemaking process are unprecedented for the FDA. We are concerned that the ruling sets a dangerous precedent that is not grounded in science, and could actually deter us from our shared goal of a healthier America.”

Companies have until July 26, 2018 to implement the new Nutrition Facts labels in their packaging. Companies with annual revenues of less than $10 million will have an additional year to transition.

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