Updates coming to Nutrition Facts label
WASHINGTON - Americans rely on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ensure that food labels contain updated nutritional information to help them make more informed food choices that lead to better health for themselves and their families.
I’ve made nutrition one of my top priorities, and ensuring that consumers have accurate and science-based information concerning the link between diet and chronic diseases like diabetes, obesity and heart disease is part of that commitment. We need to advance new ways to use the science we’re learning about diet and nutrition as tools for reducing the burden of disease.
Our update to the iconic Nutrition Facts label includes significant changes to help consumers make more informed dietary choices, and we are already seeing the new label on many products.
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.
As products transition from the old label to the new label, there are two key components to successful implementation. First, we can help Americans learn about the new label so they can use the label to make good food choices. Second, the FDA can provide detailed and clear guidance to food manufacturers to help them make the required changes to their nutrition labels by the upcoming compliance dates. Towards these ends, the FDA today is announcing our intent to launch a major educational campaign for consumers surrounding the new label and is issuing several key guidance documents to industry to further help them implement the new label.
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.
This is just one example of how the new labels provide enhanced information.
We’re also going to be launching an educational campaign to help Americans use the new version of the Nutrition Facts label and interpret the overall nutritional content of products they find on supermarket shelves. This opportunity will allow us to reach consumers directly through educational videos, social media campaigns and user-friendly websites to help them discern the relationship between the dietary choices they make every day and the impact those choices can have on their own and their family’s health in reducing the risk of chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes, heart disease and a variety of cancers.
Public health goals
The effort is timed to begin when the updated labels are fully implemented in the marketplace. The informational campaign will support the underlying public health goal that Congress established and that we set out to accomplish in updating the Nutrition Facts label – help consumers use the new information to better inform their dietary choices and improve their health through diet and nutrition.
We’re equally committed to providing industry the information they need to effectively implement the new version of the Nutrition Facts label in a timely fashion. Today we issued practical guidances that provide further clarity on several key elements, including fiber, added sugars and serving size declarations.
This includes a final guidance with more information on the evidence the FDA is looking for on various non-digestible carbohydrates that may be added to food to count them as fiber on the new label.
Before we published our new evidence-based definition of dietary fiber in 2016, manufacturers could declare synthetic or isolated fibers as dietary fiber on the label even if they did not have a physiological effect that is beneficial to human health.
Our new definition allows naturally-occurring fibers in fruit, vegetables and whole grains to be considered fiber, as well as seven other isolated or synthetic fibers that are well recognized by the scientific community for having physiological benefits. But we’re also aware of evidence that other isolated or synthetic fibers could also benefit human health, such as improving glucose and cholesterol levels, increasing frequency of bowel movements and increasing satiety (the feeling of being full after eating), which can lead to a reduced calorie intake.
The FDA has been evaluating data submitted to us from the food industry in petitions on various non-digestible carbohydrates and will communicate our decisions on these petitions soon. Our goal is to provide more detail on our scientific principles for evaluating the fiber products and these petitions. We want to give the food industry clear guidance on how to meet the new standards before we make final decisions on these petitions. We’ll give petitioners who may want to add information to their petition the opportunity to revise those filings based on the more detailed guidance.
We also issued draft guidance today to help industry declare added sugars on the label of honey, maple syrup and certain cranberry products. While honey and maple syrup meet the definition of added sugars, we heard concerns from industry that declaring added sugars on their single ingredient products may lead consumers to think their pure products – such as a jar of honey or maple syrup – actually contain added table sugar because added sugars are listed on the Nutrition Facts label. We also heard from cranberry juice manufacturers that their products need to be sweetened for palatability because cranberries have less natural sugar than other fruits.
Our draft guidance addresses these concerns by stating our intent to allow manufacturers to use a symbol immediately after the added sugars daily value, directing consumers to language that provides truthful and not misleading contextual information about “added sugars” and what it means for each of these specific products.
Also, included in our implementation of the new Nutrition Facts label are updated requirements for serving sizes that more accurately reflect what people actually eat and drink. In a final guidance issued today, the FDA provided guidance on appropriate reference amounts customarily consumed for a variety of products to aid manufacturers in determining the appropriate serving sizes to include on the labels of their products.
All of these guidances are reflective of the feedback we heard about the desire for more information on these important topics. 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.
Last year we proposed to extend the compliance date for the new version of the label to give industry more time to implement the new requirements. More specifically, we proposed extending the compliance date 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 new labels and reformulate their products if necessary. We plan to issue a final rule this spring.
In the weeks ahead, I’ll provide more details on a nutrition strategy to reduce preventable death and disease through better nutrition. This effort will aim to translate the latest nutritional science into practical measures that can further empower consumers to make better and more informed decisions about their diets and health. It’ll provide them with helpful tools to make healthy food choices, including clarity on food label claims, and will create incentives for food producers to manufacture products that are healthier. All Americans should have access to the best nutrition information for making healthy choices for themselves and their families. I firmly believe that’s an important part of the FDA’s mission for protecting and promoting public health.
Gottlieb is the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration