April 4, 2014, 3:41 p.m.; Corrected June 12, 2014 11:08 a.m.
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The FDA is proposing several revisions to the nutrition labels on food packaging, including increasing the font size of calories and changing the serving size to reflect how much consumers actually eat in one sitting.
Silverglade said the benefits aren’t clear. “We know that the changes are going to cost the food industry billions of dollars, that’s for sure,” he said. “But the estimated benefits are more elusive and depend on a myriad of factors.”
While the industry, analysts and consumer groups pore over the proposed rule and offer comments, many say the more important real estate on food packaging is not in the nutrition facts label at all — but on the front of food packages.
“FDA should really be spending more time policing unauthorized front-of-package labeling than tweaking the back,” Silverglade said.
The FDA has sanctioned some industry-led efforts, including one by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute, dubbed Facts Out Front. “I think the front-of-package disclosure is going to be much more meaningful,” said Jeremy Kees, a professor at Villanova University who specializes in nutrition disclosure on packaging. “More condensed information is better in a shopping environment.”
The FDA has said it would consider mandating front-of-package labeling, but has not done so — and doesn’t appear to be moving in that direction.
“I think the FDA is doing the right thing to see if this can catch on,” Kees said, referring to the Facts Out Front effort, which recently said it would spend $50 million on a media campaign.
In the meantime, as comments from industry and consumer groups flow in before the June 2 deadline, the agency likely will have a big job ahead of it. When the labels were first released in 2003 and 2004, designers offered up at least 35 versions before the current one was accepted. It is now considered one of the most widely reviewed graphics of the 20th century.
“It’s a lot of science on that label. There’s a lot of information you’re asking people to know,” Belser, the designer of the original label, said. “It’ll quickly become a mess with everyone’s personal agenda.”
Clarification of Bruce Silverglade's comments about added sugar.
Former Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., candidate for U.S. Senate in New Hampshire, holds his hand over his heart during the singing of the national anthem as he waits to take the stage for his town hall campaign rally with Sen. John McCain at the Pinkerton Academy in Derry, N.H., on Monday, Aug. 18, 2014.