WASHINGTON — Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, ranking member of the health subcommittee of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, on Sept. 19 introduced the Food Labeling Modernization Act of 2013 (H.R. 3147), which he said aims to bring about comprehensive food labeling reform by addressing front-of-package labeling, eliminating misleading health claims and requiring updates to the Nutrition Facts Panel and ingredient lists. The bill was co-sponsored by Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut. It was referred to the Committee on Energy and Commerce. Similar legislation was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.
“Childhood obesity has nearly tripled in the past 30 years and is a huge public health problem in this country that puts millions of American children at risk,” Pallone said. “Healthy eating is critical to combating this epidemic. That is why it is so important that when families make the effort to eat nutritious, healthy food, the labels on food products help them make the right choices — not confuse or mislead them. The Food Labeling Modernization Act is a comprehensive approach to updating labels so that consumers have the clear, consistent information they need when making important decisions about the food they buy and give to their families.”
Pallone said the bill’s signature initiative would direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services to establish “a single, standard front-of-package labeling system in a timely manner for all foods required to bear nutrition labeling.”
The bill states: “There should be a single, simple, standard symbol system that displays calorie information related to a common serving size, and information related to nutrients strongly associated with public health concerns. Consumers should be able to quickly and easily comprehend the meaning of the symbol system as an indicator of a product’s contribution to a healthy diet.”
The bill would require the information to appear in a consistent location on the principal display panels across products, have a prominent design that visually contrasts with existing packaging design and be sufficiently large.
The bill specified nutrition information so displayed should be consistent with the Nutrition Facts Panel and with the recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. It should aim to facilitate consumer selection of healthy product options, including among nutritionally at-risk subpopulations.
The proposed legislation would require the Secretary of HHS to “periodically evaluate the front-of-package information to assess its ability to help facilitate consumer selection of healthy product options and the extent to which manufacturers are offering healthier products as a result of the disclosure.”
Specific changes sought in the current Nutrition Facts Panel include requiring the per cent daily values for calories and sugar, as well as the amount of sugar that is not naturally occurring, be listed. The bill would require any product containing an amount of food reasonably consumed on a single occasion to state on the label that a single package contains one serving. And the bill would require disclosure on the Nutrition Facts Panel of the amount of caffeine in a product if it exceeds 10 milligrams.
The bill would require the Food and Drug Administration to issue guidance for industry clarifying the scientific support needed to prevent false or misleading information for a structure/function claim and would give the HHS Secretary the legal authority to compel companies to turn over their substantiation documents. It would require the FDA to update the definition of the term “healthy” so it is based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans criteria and to establish a standard definition for the term “natural.”
The bill said in updating the definition of “healthy,” the FDA should take into account “the extent to which such food contains added sugars or whole grains. In the case of a food (other than a dietary supplement) that contains grains, in revising such regulations, the secretary shall not consider the food to be ‘healthy’ unless at least half of those grains, by weight, are whole grains.”
And the bill also would require that product claims such as “made from whole grain” be permitted only if the amount of whole grain (as a percentage of total grain) is disclosed conspicuously on the product label.
“This bill would give consumers confidence that the claims they read on food labels — like ‘healthy,’ ‘natural,’ ‘made with whole grains,’ and so on — are grounded in reality,” said Michael F. Jacobson, executive director, Center for Science in the Public Interest. “Simply by making ingredient lists legible, this bill would be a historic advance for consumers. Anyone who shops or eats should support the efforts of Senator Blumenthal and Representatives Pallone and DeLauro to end the chaos on food labels.”
Ami Gadhia, senior policy counsel for Consumers Union, said, “Many of the labels on food currently don’t give consumers all the information they need to make informed decisions about the food they buy. This legislation would take a big, commonsense step forward in improving the nutrition information available about the food that consumers are putting in their cart and on their kitchen tables.”