Prepared Foods September 19, 2005 eNewsletter

The packaged food industry pressed the federal government to change the way calories and serving sizes are listed on nutritional labels.

The Grocery Manufacturers of America submitted a petition to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for several changes to the labels found on food and beverage packages. "We've got to make sure this information is clear, so consumers can easily understand the calorie count or serving size of a product," said Alison Kretser, senior director for scientific and nutrition policy for the Washington trade group. The association represents $680 billion in grocery products.

The FDA said it had not received the petition but would give it "careful consideration."

The petition comes as the FDA collects comments on potential changes to the nutrition facts panel. A 1990 law required nutrition labeling for most foods.

Barbara Schneeman, head of the FDA's Office of Nutritional Products, Labeling and Dietary Supplements, earlier highlighted similar changes that the agency is considering.

The FDA is reviewing modifications such as more prominent calorie displays and simpler standards for serving size and carbohydrate data, Schneeman told the audience at the World Obesity and Weight Loss Congress in Washington.

"Consumers have reported changing purchases for healthier alternatives because of this label. It's a very valuable tool," she said.

The FDA has no timetable for when it may decide to alter the nutrition label rules, said spokeswoman Kimberly Rawlings.

"There could be some changes coming, but right now we just don't know," Rawlings said.

The group's main recommendation called for an overhaul of the single-serving size on the panel.

Serving sizes, which have long been a source of consumer confusion, list the amount of a food that the FDA says is "customarily" eaten in one setting.

While single-serving packages tend to list the nutritional data for all the food in the package, other packages have labels that list more than one serving size for the container.

Consumers who eat the entire package would have to multiply the nutritional information to get an accurate account of how much they ate.

The trade group suggested the label include a single line that states "calories per container" or a dual column in the label that has data per serving and per package.

Additionally, the petition asked the FDA to increase the type size and put in bold type the calories and serving sizes while eliminating the actual line in the label that separates the nutritional indicators.

If the FDA adopts the trade association's suggestions, the cost to food and beverage companies likely would be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, Kretser said.

The FDA estimated that a change to the nutrition label in 2003 cost the food industry $140 million to $250 million.

That rule, which requires products to list their trans-fatty acid content on the label, goes into effect January 1, 2006.

Source: Washington Times