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Legislation Introduced to Modernize Food Labeling

Four Democratic lawmakers have introduced legislation in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate with the aim of minimizing consumer confusion regarding food labels.

The Food Labeling Modernization Act of 2015 takes on front-of-package labeling and health claims, requiring updates to the Nutrition Facts panel and ingredient list. The Food and Drug Administration has proposed changing the Nutrition Facts panel to require information on added sugars, updated serving sizes, and more prominent calorie and serving-size information. The agency has also recently requested public comment on the use of the term "natural" on food labels.

"When families make the effort to eat nutritious, healthy food, the labels on food products should help them make the right choices, not confuse or mislead them," said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J), who, along with Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), crafted the legislation, which he says takes "a comprehensive approach at ensuring consistency and clarity on food labels and setting reliable standards for what healthy and natural actually mean."

Adds Pallone: "Healthy eating is especially critical to combating the growing epidemic of childhood obesity, which has nearly tripled in the past 30 years and is one of the most serious public health problems in this country. For the health of our children and our country, the time is now for this long-overdue legislation."

Noting that food-labeling laws haven’t changed since the 1990s, Blumenthal said: "Americans deserve to know what is in the food they eat. By empowering consumers with accurate, truthful, and concise information, this legislation will enable them to make healthier choices, and outsmart deceptive pitches and promotions."

To assist shoppers in making more nutritious food choices, the Food Labeling Modernization Act would direct the Health and Human Services secretary to develop a single, standard front-of-package nutrition labeling system in a timely manner for all foods required to have nutrition labeling. The bill would also bolster current law to misleading marketing claims, such as requiring new guidelines for the use of  terms such as "healthy" or "made with whole grain." Further, the legislation would require that the percent daily values for calories and sugar, in addition to the amount of sugar that’s not naturally occurring, be called out on the Nutrition Facts panel.

"When 'whole grain' waffles can be made with white flour, and 'all-natural' ingredients can contain synthetic high-fructose corn syrup, it's clear our food labels are due for a makeover," said Laura MacCleery, director of regulatory affairs at Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). "And putting easy-to-interpret nutrition symbols on the fronts of packages would be a major advance for consumers who want to make healthy choices in an instant."

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