Few people besides federal employees can really appreciate the impact the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has on our daily lives. This public health agency plays a major role in regulating the packaged foods and medicines we consume. That’s a tall order requiring time, personnel and research, which is why—after more than 20 years without a major update—the FDA has finally revamped its labeling system.
“Today, people are eating differently, and science has advanced,” says FDA spokesperson Lauren Kotwicki. The FDA created the new label “to reflect updated scientific information—including the link between diet and chronic diseases such as obesity and heart disease.” Another crucial change: The agency has updated serving-size requirements to more accurately reflect what people eat and drink, Kotwicki says.
Agency of Change
Protecting how and what Americans consume is a huge job. In fact, the FDA, which started with just a single chemist in 1862, has grown to a staff of approximately 15,000 today. It is the oldest comprehensive consumer protection agency in the federal government. With the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, which outlawed interstate commerce of misbranded food and drugs, the agency began its regulatory responsibilities.
Since then, the FDA has evolved to address new medical advances, drug claims and the changing nutritional profile of our food supply, including the influx of additives and preservatives.
And until now, modern food safety legislation had culminated in the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990, which introduced the Nutrition Facts label we’ve come to know.
What’s New About the Label?
In recent years, federal health officials and consumer advocacy groups called for a change, and the FDA delivered. Kotwicki says the label has been updated in significant ways. Among the changes, the Calories from Fat line item has been removed because research suggests that fat type is more important than the amount alone. And an increased clarity in serving sizes—using dual-column labels for multi-serving food products that can be consumed in one or more sittings (e.g., bread, cereal, many snacks)—should help people better understand what they’re consuming.
A Clearer Health Picture
Shifting FDA policy is a long, labor-intensive process, says Kotwicki. Before Congress can enact new FDA legislation or alter the content of labels, there are many layers of approval involved. For the latest changes, two proposed rules were issued in March 2014, a supplemental proposed rule was issued in July 2015, and the two final rules were published in May 2016.
Amy Gorin, a registered dietitian-nutritionist and owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition, welcomes the result: “You’ll have a faster, clearer picture of what you’re actually eating,” she says.
By Danielle Blundell
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