FDA Releases New Guidance on Nutrition Facts Label

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, has revealed new guidance from the agency for food manufacturers to help them make the necessary changes by the upcoming compliance dates, as well as plans to roll out “a major educational campaign for consumers” in regard to the revised label.

“The Nutrition Facts label hasn’t been meaningfully updated in decades, and so in transitioning to this new, more informative label, it is important that we provide careful guidance to food manufacturers and to consumers,” noted Gottlieb.

He added: “The new Nutrition Facts label incorporates the latest evidence-based information on nutrients, such as added sugars, to provide consumers with more information regarding their food choices. For example, the old label lists total grams of sugars, but it didn’t distinguish between sugars that are naturally occurring in foods like fruits and vegetables, and sugars that meet the definition of added sugars. We’ve made it our goal to increase consumer awareness of the quantity of added sugars in food products consistent with recent dietary guideline recommendations. The new label also contains the new daily value for added sugars, so consumers can better understand how foods with added sugars can fit into a healthy dietary pattern.”

The practical guidances seek to provide further clarity on such key label elements as fiber, added sugars and serving sizes.

“All of these guidances are reflective of the feedback we heard about the desire for more information on these important topics,” explained Gottlieb. “As we move forward with implementing the new labeling, we believe these guidances will help provide information that industry has sought from the FDA by providing the agency’s current thinking on these topics.”

He also noted the agency’s proposal to extend the compliance date for the updated label from July 2018 to Jan. 1, 2020, for manufacturers with $10 million or more in annual food sales and to Jan. 1, 2021, for smaller manufacturers, to give them enough time to produce the labels and reformulate products if necessary, adding that FDA intended to issue a final rule in the spring.

According to Jim O’Hara, special projects director of the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest, however, an earlier deadline is feasible.

With [the] release of the guidance, a July 2019 compliance date for all companies for the updated Nutrition Facts label is both realistic and achievable,” contended O’Hara. “In fact, more than 15,000 of the upgraded labels are already on grocery store shelves. Label Insight, a company that tracks food labeling, has found what it calls an ‘exponential’ increase in use of the updated labels. Consumers deserve the updated labels sooner rather than later.”

He added, “Although we have concerns about some elements of the guidance documents released … they are largely reasonable and scientifically sound.

The educational campaign, meanwhile, will aim to help Americans understand and use the new label via videos, social media campaigns and user-friendly websites. The initiative is slated to kick off when the updated labels have been fully implemented.