The latest big-impact regulatory change for the food industry is the recently announced labeling changes for the Nutrition Facts Panel (NFP) by FDA. But FDA acknowledges this will be a costly endeavor with a price tag of about $2 billion for the food industry. So the big question is whether this change will translate into $2 billion worth of public health benefit?
The FDA is proposing updates to two regulations relating to the NFP and the Supplement Facts Panel (SFP). The first, “Food Labeling: Revision of the Nutrition and Supplement Facts Labels,” will update the content of the NFP and SFP, such as mandatory and voluntary nutrient labeling, and the reference values for these nutrients. The reference values are used to establish the “daily values” on the NFP. The new requirements reflect the most “current science” reported in the “Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010.”
The second proposed regulation, “Food Labeling: Serving Sizes of Foods That Can Reasonably Be Consumed At One Eating Occasion…,” will modify the Reference Amount Customarily Consumed (RACC) – the definition of a single serving size – and require some dual labeling for containers that may be consumed in one serving, such as chips. The RACC for snack chips is 30 gm, but there are a number of chip offerings that are 60-70 gm. These chip offerings are generally consumed in one sitting, for example 60-70 gm can range somewhere from 20-30 chips. These products would require nutritional information on both a 30 gm serving and a whole package (60 gm plus) serving. The RACC is the basis for serving sizes or the amount of food customarily consumed. The proposed changes to RACC and single serving containers are to ensure that serving sizes are based on “current” consumption data. These modifications follow, in part, recommendations to update the food label by the 2003 FDA Obesity Working Group and data from the 2003-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES). The NHANES program of studies was designed to assess the health and nutritional status of adults and children. This update will be the largest change to the NFP and SFP since the 1990 Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA), which provided the FDA with authority to require nutrition labeling of most foods and supplements regulated by the Agency.
These two proposed regulations will work in concert. The proposed modifications to RACC specifically reference the daily amount of food an individual above the age of 4 consumes in one eating occasion. The serving size (regulations contained in both 21 CFR 101.9 & 21 CFR 101.12), will in turn be presented in the new format of the NFP and SFP (see below), and in theory enable consumers to make informed choices about the products they are buying, including the comparison of similar products. Some would argue that the current NFP already allows consumers to make informed choices, so these changes have to be put in the context of hoping that consumers will make more health conscious decisions now that there is more information on the NFP. But, of course, these changes will only impact people who are reading the labels.
Nutrition Fact & Supplement Facts Panel Changes
At face value, the collective list of changes to the format and content of the NFP and SFP, does not seem too large. However, the changes to the facts panels will generate a lot of work. This work will be for the food industry in regard to training their regulatory teams on the new updates and, in turn, those individuals updating the label format and content. It will require all the labeling software companies to update their programing, validate and verify these changes and roll the updates to their clients. The list of proposed changes includes:
- Larger calorie count font.
- Moving the “% Daily Value” to the left from the right.
- Reducing the sodium daily value from 2,400 mg to 2,300 mg.
- Requiring that “added sugars” be listed.
- Requiring daily values for potassium, if present.
- Requiring daily values for Vitamin D, if present.
- Voluntarily listing Vitamins A and C.
- Removing the “Calories from Fat” data line.
- Dual column labeling containing single serving and whole package nutrition information if a package contains at least two times the serving size and less than or equal to four times the serving size.
- Documenting analytical data for company records to support the declaration of certain nutrients (dietary fiber, sugar – natural or added, vitamin E, and folate or folic acid).
- Establishing a reference daily intake (RDI) for choline – choline should follow potassium on the SFP.
These label changes will have to be managed for all food and supplement products, including both products of high velocity that fly off the shelf and those that are slow but steady. The FDA is anticipating the effective date will be 60 days after the final rule is published and is providing 24 months for implementation. On balance, if this is going to happen, the time frame is probably reasonable. Managing the implementation of this proposed rule will require planning and resources. For example, each label printing plate will have to be updated, and all old inventory will have to be worked through or discarded if going longer than 24 months.
Additionally, there is another regulatory body that governs foods and therefore product labels including NFP – the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). The USDA FSIS regulates the labeling of meat and poultry products. The question can be asked: Will this update be matched in proposed regulations to modify nutrition labeling for meat [9 CFR 317.309] and poultry [9 CFR 381.409] for content and format as well? There are facilities that manufacture products under both FDA and USDA FSIS regulations. These facilities may have a challenge with consumer messaging on their labels. For example, a cheese pizza which is regulated by the FDA will have the new NFP, but that same brand’s pepperoni pizza regulated by the USDA FSIS will retain the existing NFP. We can only hope the two regulatory agencies align on this one way or the other.
The big question is whether this massive relabeling undertaking will be truly of value to consumers? The FDAs states that these revisions are needed so the NFP “meets its intended goal of helping consumers maintain healthy dietary practices.” Will this information translate into the $1.7 billion estimates benefit? Possibly – for those who closely read and compare food labels; as far as they are concerned, the more information the better. But those types of people already read labels and likely take action based on what they read. For consumers who select products according to taste, brand, or label graphics, it is unlikely to do much except raise the price to help pay the manufacturers’ costs of relabeling – and it is those people who most likely need to change eating behaviors from a public health perspective. Either way, it will be interesting to see how it all plays out.
The FDA is encouraging interested parties to comment on the proposed rules – and there are a lot of impacted parties with these rules. The “Food Labeling: Revision of the Nutrition and Supplement Facts Labels” and the “Food Labeling: Serving Sizes of Foods That Can Reasonably Be Consumed at One-Eating Occasion; Dual-Column Labeling; Updating, Modifying, and Establishing Certain Reference Amounts Customarily Consumed; Serving Size for Breath Mints; and Technical Amendments” comment periods both close on June 2, 2014.
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Food Labeling Revisions – Will It Drive Change in Consumer Behaviors? by Anne Sherod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.