FDA Nutrition Facts Label: Will the New Administration Approve a Change?

Manisha Reddy
Associate Editor
Loyola University Chicago School of Law, JD 2019

On May 20, 2016 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a new nutrition facts label for packaged foods, the first significant makeover in twenty years. The new label reflects new scientific information regarding our diets; such as the link between diet and chronic diseases like obesity and heart disease. This new label comes after three years of negotiations and proposed improvements between the FDA, scientists, and lobbying groups. Those in favor of the changes have pointed out that the old nutrition facts label had no information to help consumers determine if they were complying with the U.S. Dietary Guidelines’ recommendations, and that the labels did not accurately reflect the necessary nutrients per day. These proposed changes will affect manufacturers as well as consumers. Manufacturers are not only worried about having to reformulate their foods, but also having to reconsider their ability to make certain nutrient content claims in advertisements and on packaging. Companies will also have to consider additional costs associated with packaging design, development of new artwork, regulatory consultation and review to ensure label compliance, reconsideration of inconsistent advertising, and human costs associated with potential new operating procedures and training to ensure compliance with the new regulations. In response to complaints from manufacturers, consumer advocates are reminding the White House Administration to remember that the FDA’s mission is protect the health of the American people, not the bottom line of manufacturers.

Proposed Changes

While the new label will look similar to the previous version, there will be significant changes to the content of the label. On the new label, added sugars are now clearly labeled in a larger and bolded font. New research has shown that this information is one of the most crucial aspects to look at when purchasing packaged foods. Americans are now getting 13% of their daily calories from added sugars, but experts are finding that it becomes increasingly difficult to meet your nutritional needs and stay in within the recommended calorie limits if you consume more than 10% of your daily calories from added sugars. The American Heart Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the World Health Organization are recommending to decrease intake of foods with added sugars because these foods typically have lower levels of nutrients. Another notable change is that that the calories from fat have been deleted. New scientific evidence has shown that eating certain types of fat is better than just restricting fat as a nutrient. Some vitamins that are currently listed on the label will no longer be required, while others will be added. Scientists have found that Americans are no longer deficient in nutrients such as Vitamin A and Vitamin C. Another change was made regarding the serving sizes of various packaged foods. The new serving sizes are meant to be more realistic and will now accurately reflect the amount of food that Americans actually drink and eat. Research has shown that what is currently considered a single serving has changed over recent decades and the amount of food that people consume in one sitting has also changed.

Impact for Businesses

The FDA has given most food and beverage manufacturers until July of 2018 to comply with the regulations. Those companies who produce $10 million or less per year will have one additional year to meet the label requirements. Dr. Dietz, of the Redstone Center for Prevention & Wellness at George Washington University, is certain that the new regulations are going to force consumers to rethink their food habits and that the new labels will hopefully promote changes from the food manufactures in terms of product formulation. Food companies are complaining that they are only being given two years to update their labels. Some companies are estimating that complying with the new guidelines could cost them as much as $4.6 billion, in order to meet the July 2018 deadline. The FDA argues that while the short term investment may be high, the long term investment and benefit for consumers could total $78 billion over twenty years. Many food and beverage manufacturers have responded to the proposed changes by arguing that they have created more than 30,000 healthier products since 2002, and to suddenly impose a large change is both financially and creatively burdensome. The Sugar Lobby is one of many groups that have been against this proposed change since its inception, and with a new White House Administration they might win their fight.

Pushback by the New Administration

The Trump administration’s anti–regulation agenda is in favor of dismantling the proposed changes by the FDA and the last three years of work that have been put into creating the new guidelines. Several petitions by food industry leaders show that manufacturers are trying to capitalize on the administration’s new agenda by putting an end to those rules requiring the disclosure of calories, sugar, fiber, and serving size. Seventeen food industry groups, including the National Association of Convenience Stores, National Grocers Association, and the American Bakers have asked the Trump Administration to delay compliance with the nutrition fact label requirements. Lobbying groups such as the American Bakers, are especially concerned with the FDA’s new dietary fiber definitions and potentially burdensome requirements. Public health scientists are worried that the new administration will disrupt the years of work that have been put into creating the new, updated nutrition facts label and are worried about the potential health consequences for consumers. The President of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Michael F. Jacobson, argues that the food industry is clearly not concerned with the public’s health, and by not wanting to comply with the new regulations they are undermining their own credibility. Mr. Jacobson believes that the food industry is trying to delay giving consumers important nutrition information by putting their own agenda ahead of the publics’. As of April 27, 2017 the FDA filed a notice that it will indeed delay the menu and labeling deadlines, and would accept new comments regarding the proposed nutritional fact changes from industry groups and stakeholders. On October 02, 2017 the FDA announced a proposed rule to extend compliance with the new label until January 1, 2020, but consumer advocates are worried that an extension will only continue to delay the process and that acceptance by the White House Administration seems less likely.