GMA/FPA to Back Voluntary Nutrition Labeling at FDA Hearing

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GMA/FPA to Back Voluntary Nutrition Labeling at FDA Hearing

WASHINGTON -- Presenting its side of the story during the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's two-day hearing on nutrition information labeling, the Grocery Manufacturers/Food Products Association (GMA/FPA) will argue today that voluntary labeling has been effective, and should remain in the hands of manufacturers.

The trade group will submit its opinion in written testimony during the hearing. Citing the existing variety of symbols and graphic designs that are used as voluntary label elements in the food industry, Regina Hildwine, senior director of food labeling and standards for GMA/FPA, said in a statement yesterday that “as a rule, these symbols have been, and now are, used on food labels and in labeling in a manner that is truthful and non-misleading.”

Hildwine maintained that such labels are consistent with the regulatory framework that FDA has established for making representations about nutrition. “They are voluntary label elements, and GMA/FPA believes that they should continue to be voluntary,” Hildwine said.

Since FDA’s call several years ago for more nutritious foods, “many thousands of food products have been reformulated to improve their nutrient profiles in recent years,” Hildwine noted.

Additionally, as FDA encouraged food companies to experiment with labeling presentations on calories and serving sizes, “food companies have taken this encouragement seriously,” Hildwine said. “Many are using label surfaces and labeling techniques, such as symbols and related graphic designs, that supplement Nutrition Facts in order to communicate nutrition information and food and dietary guidance to consumers.”

Hildwine also argued that in order to be effective, nutrition symbols should focus on positive nutrition messages to consumers, instead of “demonizing” food products or categories.

She noted that GMA/FPA, along with the Food Marketing Institute, currently is sponsoring Take a Peak, an in-store campaign built around the government’s My Pyramid tool to help provide consumers in the retail setting make healthful and informed food choices. Meanwhile, MyPyramid is represented on the labels and labeling of many food products, including those that use additional symbols to communicate nutrition.

“With the linkage to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and MyPyramid, nutrition symbol programs are grounded in sound science, and are consistent with the policies set forth by the federal government on communicating dietary guidance and similar representations about the food,” Hildwine said.

In the two-day hearing, the FDA is examining whether symbols added to the front of food packages could convey nutrition information in a clear and concise way. The agency is collecting comments from food companies, trade groups, watchdog organizations, medical experts, and their overseas counterparts on the topic.

Still, any action is likely years away, according to industry experts.