Lots Of Feedback On Food Labels To Be Unveiled Today

Michelle Obama will today announce proposed changes to the nutritional food labels on packaged goods that she touted in a statement yesterday as “a big deal, and it's going to make a big difference for families all across this country.” 

The Food and Drug Administration is actually the agency behind the release of two versions of the nutritional label after what reportedly has been a lot of input from the first lady’s staff. Now it’s up to the public and “everyone from food manufacturers to dietitians,” writes USA Today’s Kim Painter, “to consider and argue” the relative merits of each proposal over the next 90 days. 

The FDA will then review the feedback over a year or longer and could make modifications before issuing a final ruling. Companies will then have two years to change their labels. 

“The changes are expected to cost $2 billion, though the government estimates they may accrue benefits of $20 billion to $30 billion to consumers over 20 years,” reports Bloomberg’s Elizabeth Lopatto.

“Americans are in for a reality check about how many calories and how much sugar they are consuming,” points out Politico’s Helena Bottemiller Evich. “What’s considered a serving size would get larger, the type used to display calories would get bolder and added sugars would have to be listed on roughly 700,000 consumer products — from cereal to energy drinks….”

More specifically, you’ll have to stop pretending that you’re actually eating “only” a half-cup of ice cream with “only” 150 calories, and a single serving of soda will now be a more realistic, and standard, 20 ounces.

“By law, the label information on serving sizes must be based on what people actually eat, not on what they ‘should' be eating,’” the Food and Drug Administration said in a statement reported by NBC News’ Maggie Fox. “For certain packages that are larger and could be consumed in one sitting or multiple sittings, manufacturers would have to provide ‘dual column’ labels to indicate both ‘per serving’ and ‘per package’ calories and nutrient information.” 

It’s “the first overhaul for nutrition labels since the FDA began requiring them more than 20 years ago,” report CNN’s Jacque Wilson and Jen Christensen. “There has been a shift in shoppers' priorities as nutrition is better understood and people learn what they should watch for on a label, administration officials said.”

But one of the labels that will be proposed today is evidently more of a stalking horse — or perhaps a shot across the bow of industry critics — than a serious proposition.

“The FDA took the unusual step of also printing up an ‘alternate’ new label that appears potentially more helpful to the average family than the officially proposed one,” explain Thomas M. Burton and Annie Gasparro in the Wall Street Journal. “This label specifically lists items where people should ‘Avoid too Much,’ and others to ‘Get Enough,’ along with the daily percentages that food would contribute.”

This version “could serve to gauge whether the public wants more robust changes — and warn the industry that tougher labels aren't off the table,” Burton and Gasparro point out.

“A USDA study released last month showed 42% of working-age adults between 29 and 68 looked at these labels most or all of the time when shopping. Some 57% of Americans older than 68 did as well,” report CNN’s Wilson and Christensen. “That's up from 2007, when 34% of working-age adults looked at the label, and 51% of Americans older than 68 did.”

Reactions to the proposals rolled in even in advance of them actually being proposed. 

“The Grocery Manufacturers Association and other industry groups have said they are committed to working with the administration to help Americans make healthier diet choices,” writes Ariana Eunjung Cha in the Washington Post. “However, as the new labels were being developed, they expressed strong objections to some of the FDA’s ideas, especially the addition of a line for ‘added sugars.’”

On the other side of the debate, “health advocates who have been asking for the changes for over a decade said they were generally pleased with the FDA proposal, but said there was more work to be done,” Eunjung Cha reports.

Predicting that the proposals will be “wildly controversial,” NYU professor Marion Nestle tells the New York Times’ Sabrina Tavernise, “I really like them. I’m kind of stunned actually,” singling out that the model label “emphasizes calories; it’s got added sugars; it fixed the portion-size problem.”

The discussion under Politico’s coverage of the forthcoming announcement is, alas, probably an indicator of where the public give-and-take is headed in unsocial media venues. First response up: “Is this, perhaps, the result of a man who can't say ‘NO’ to his wife? Really now, where are the priorities of the Obama White House?” 

And, as you no doubt anticipate, it can and does degenerate from there.

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1 comment about "Lots Of Feedback On Food Labels To Be Unveiled Today".
  1. Roger Saunders from PROSPER BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT , February 27, 2014 at 10:48 a.m.
    What gets measured, gets done . . . but for how long? The Prosper Insights & Analytics Monthly Consumer Survey has been asking about how consumers have been dealing with their health by diet and exercise for 13 years. In February, 2007, 23.6% of Boomers, 14.6% of Generation X, and 13.3% of Generation Y said they were watching their Carbohydrate Intake. This February, the figures for the groups were 24.2%, 14.5%, and 14.6% respectfully. Generation X was as high as 17.9% in 02/12, but fell back in 02/13 (15.2%) and 02/14 (14.5%). Similar patterns occurred for Boomers and Gen Y. Further, similar patterns of Health consciousness occur in Watching Salt/Sodium Intake, Monitoring Calories, and Gluten Intake. Exercise levels for Boomers are higher in 02/14 (35.2%) vs. 02/07 (33.4%), but lower for Gen X 30.5% vs. 34.1% and Gen Y 35.7% vs. 42.2%. When family members, peers, government, health care advocates, food marketers, etc. shine a light on the topic, incremental steps are taken to improve. Lifestyle shifts take hard work and disciplined efforts at the personal level -- much more than just a nanny-statement to deliver major change. A good press conference will be had, bigger numbers will show up on packages, many people will nod heads and challenge themselves. Alas, the majority of Americans will still be succumbing to excess eating and lack of proper exercise over the next 10 years.