FDA, White House unveiling new nutrition labels for food packages

This handout image provide by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) shows a current food nutrition label and a proposed label. Revamped food nutrition labels would change serving sizes for popular items like ice cream and sodas, make calories listing more prominent, and, for the first time, list any sugars that were added by the manufacturer. The overhaul of the omnipresent 20 year-old label comes as science has shifted. (AP Photo/FDA)
February 27, 2014 4:37:28 AM PST
For the first time in more than 20 years, nutrition labels on food packages are getting a makeover.

Today, the White House and the Food and Drug Administration will unveil major changes designed to make it easier for people to understand what they are eating and drinking.

One drastic change will be serving sizes. The new labels base serving sizes on what people actually eat. For example, the serving size for soda will be 12 ounces instead of eight, and ice cream will increase from half a cup to one cup.

Calories will be in larger type, and labels will state if foods have added sugars.

The proposed overhaul comes as science has shifted. While fat was the focus two decades ago when the labels first were created, nutritionists are now more concerned with how many calories we eat. And serving sizes have long been misleading, with many single-serving packages listing multiple servings, so the calorie count is lower.

The idea isn't that people should eat more; it's that they should understand how many calories are in what they are actually eating. The Food and Drug Administration says that by law, serving sizes must be based on actual consumption, not ideal consumption.

"Our guiding principle here is very simple, that you as a parent and a consumer should be able to walk into your local grocery store, pick up an item off the shelf and be able to tell whether it's good for your family," said first lady Michelle Obama, who was to join the Food and Drug Administration in announcing the proposed changes Thursday at the White House.

Mrs. Obama was making the announcement as part of her Let's Move initiative to combat child obesity, which is celebrating its fourth anniversary. On Tuesday, she announced new Agriculture Department rules that would reduce marketing of unhealthy foods in schools.

The new nutrition labels are likely several years away. The FDA will take comments on the proposal for 90 days, and a final rule could take another year. Once it's final, the agency has proposed giving industry two years to comply.

The FDA projects food companies will have to pay around $2 billion as they change the labels.

While some may ignore the panels, there's evidence that more people are reading them in recent years as there has been a heightened interest in nutrition.

A USDA study released earlier this year said 42 percent of working adults used the panel always or most of the time in 2009 and 2010, up from 34 percent two years earlier. Older adults were more likely to use it.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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