What’s in a Label?

Last week, I wrote about the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s efforts to update the definition of “healthy” foods and utilize a logo to better help consumers identify those healthy foods.

But that’s not all the agency is up to. The FDA is also currently researching another major proposal for food packaging: a potential new requirement that some nutritional facts be printed on the front of the packaging. According to the agency, this practice has increased dramatically around the globe in recent years.

At the Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health on September 28, 2022, the White House released a National Strategy to end hunger and increase healthy eating and physical activity by 2030. The goal of the initiative is to have fewer Americans experience diet-related diseases like type 2 diabetes, obesity and hypertension.

Part of the National Strategy is to implement a standardized front-of-package system for food packages to help consumers, particularly those with lower nutrition knowledge, quickly and easily identify foods that can help them build a healthy eating pattern.

The new labels would be required to disclose unhealthy levels of delicious ingredients, such as saturated fat, sodium and added sugars – things that would likely disqualify the food from using the FDA’s new “healthy” logo. After focus group testing of several different designs, the agency hopes to publish a proposal for the rules by June of this year.

The new front of package labels are meant to complement, not replace traditional nutrition facts labels. While FDA Deputy Commissioner for Human Foods Jim Jones said many Americans do turn packaging around to find the product’s nutritional facts on the back of the box, he acknowledged that many do not.

“What we have learned from consumer research is that at point of sales, it is a snap judgment, and you’ve got to be able to give people information in a snap, that they can process in seconds,” he said.

Previous trials by the FDA have examined a variety of designs created to fit on the front of a smattering of food products, including everything from bottled sports drinks to boxed frozen foods. According to Jones, the agency has settled on a final design that “consumers best understood” in the focus groups.

While Jones did not elaborate on the final choice for the design, he did indicate that, “We really went with what did people say, where we were trying to convey a specific message, they understood that message, so they’d be empowered to make a healthier choice.”

“There is no single solution to reducing diet-related disease,” said Robin McKinnon, Senior Advisor for Nutrition Policy at the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “The goal really is to make [front of package labeling] easier for consumers to identify healthier options for themselves and their families,” she continued. “FOP labeling is a fast and simple tool that can assist busy consumers, including those with lower nutrition knowledge, in identifying healthier foods.”

McKinnon says the aim of the FOP scheme is to make nutrition information more accessible to consumers. “That’s where we’re aiming, to be able to help provide consumers the assistance we know they’re looking for,” she explained. “People want to eat healthier for the most part, and they want the information to help them do that.”

I think putting nutritional values on the front of packing is a great idea. Now that I’m over 50, however, I just hope the FDA requires food manufacturers to use a big enough font.

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Reg P. Wydeven

Elder Law and Estate Planning Attorney at McCarty Law LLP
Hoping to follow in his father’s footsteps from a young age, Reg’s practice primarily consists of advising individuals on estate planning, estate settlement and elder law matters. As Reg represents clients in matters like guardianship proceedings and long-term care admissions, he feels grateful to be able to offer families thorough legal help in their time of need.

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