EAT THIS

New food nutrition labels may be coming

Posted Feb. 03, 2014, at 11:16 a.m.

It has been about 20 years since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has made changes to the nutrition facts label that appears on the back of food packages. Over the past 20 years, knowledge about nutrition has evolved and there is more focus on calories now. A primary focus in 2006 was trans fats and they were given a prominent place on the label. It is important to keep the food label updated.

If the FDA gets its way there may soon be some changes. Nutritionists and other health professionals have submitted suggestions for changes that they would like to see on the new label. Many feel that the number of calories should be more prominent, and the amount of added sugar as well as the percent of whole wheat in a particular food should be included.

Many manufacturers will label products “whole wheat” when there is really only a small percentage of it in the food. Some people have requested that GMOs be identified.

Personally, I think they should get rid of the “percent daily value.” Very few people understand what it means, and the 2,000 calorie diet that it references applies to almost nobody. It is a confusing number that I haven’t found to be helpful.

Another suggestion is to provide information on serving sizes that make sense. This isn’t an easy problem to solve. For many, they see single-size servings that are clearly meant to be eaten in one sitting listed for two or three servings on a label, causing the calorie and other nutrient information to be viewed as deceptive. Recently, there has been a column added onto some products listing nutrition information per serving per container. The FDA says it may also adjust serving sizes for some foods.

Supermarket owners and grocers see the new federal food-labeling rule that stems from the new health care law as an overburden that will cost them $1 billion in the first year alone.

The rule stems from an Obamacare mandate that requires restaurants to provide nutrition information on menus. The majority of the restaurant industry was in support of the idea, but when the requirement spilled over to affect thousands of supermarkets and convenience stores the support when afoul.

The FDA says that much of Obamacare is in support of helping Americans to live healthier lives and the proposed changes to the labeling requirements would do just that. If the new regulations pass, store owners will be required to label prepared, unpackaged foods found in salad bars and food bars, as well as soups and bakery items. Testing of these foods for nutritional data requires costly off-site laboratory assessments. Failure to get the information right is a federal crime that comes with stiff penalties, jail time and thousands of dollars in fines.

President Barack Obama issued an executive order in 2011 requiring agencies to calculate a cost-benefit analysis for each new regulation and attempt to use the least burdensome regulatory method possible. Critics of the FDA’s new food labeling proposal don’t believe that the agency complied in this instance. They instead said that they can’t quantify a benefit from this rule.

The FDA said this past week that it has received hundreds of public comments on the proposal and will take them into consideration when finalizing the regulation which is likely to be released later this spring. The agency says it will include a final economic analysis.

To comment on the proposed new regulation, visit fda.gov/bbs/topics/news/2005/NEW01170.html.

Georgia Clark-Albert is a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes educator at Penobscot Community Health Care in Bangor. She provides nutrition consultant services through Mainely Nutrition in Athens. Read more of her columns and post questions at bangordailynews.com or email her at GeorgiaMaineMSRDCDE@gmail.com.

 

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