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FDA asks for comments on proposed new food labels

Here's some good news: the FDA is proposing improvements to the food labels which were first required twenty years ago. These are real improvements, ones that make the labels more honest and easier to read. The primary proposal is good and the alternative label is even better. (See example before and after labels below.) Neither proposal mentions genetically modified ingredients or consolidates information on the confusing UDSA Certified Organic seal.

Comments are open on the new label design through June 2nd. You can bet your last Oreo that the corporations are weighing in, so let's make sure the FDA also hears from people who want to eat healthy, real food. See below for details on the proposal and how to comment.

Current label compared to primary proposal

The new label makes it harder for manufacturers to use ridiculous portion sizes to disguise unhealthy food. (The serving size for Fig Newtons is 31 grams, a cryptic figure for metric-challenged Americans, the weight of two cookies. Xing says there are 3 servings in a single 23.5 ounce can of its Half & Half Premium Tea and Lemonade--with 20 grams of sugar in each serving or more than 14 teaspoons per can.) Larger packages that contain multiple servings can use two columns to show a serving size and the entire package.

The FDA provided example before and after labels, which I've marked with red to highlight what will no longer be shown, blue to show what is optional, and green to show the new improvements.

FDA food label current and proposed changes with comparison by Linda Watson of Cook for Good.


The proposed label is easier to read, with the total calories written larger and the daily values lined up on the left.

I'm very happy to see:

  • A line for added sugars, which will help reveal how much sugar is added processed foods
  • The weights for vitamins and minerals included instead of just the percentage, which will vary from person to person

The proposal drops the total calories from fat, reasoning that the type of fat is more important than the quantity. (If you see any trans fat listed, put the item back on the shelf and step away slowly.) I hope that doesn't confuse people who have grown accustomed to looking for that information.

The proposal makes listing Vitamins A and C optional but now requires listing Vitamin D and potassium, which the FDA says some people do not get enough of to avoid chronic disease.


FDA label even better

Even better is the alternate proposal, which helps people understand the information. It shows the three main categories (fat, carbs, and protein) in the Quick Facts portion at the top. As Marion Nestle writes, the alternate design then:

clarifies which Daily Values are floors (“eat more”) and which are ceilings (“eat less”)

How to comment before the June 2, 2014 deadline

Read up on the parts of the proposal that mean the most to you, perhaps starting with the main FDA page on the food labeling proposal. Then pick the appropriate category for your comments:

As First Lady Michele Obama says about the proposal:

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. So this is a big deal, and it’s going to make a big difference for families all across this country.

Let's help the government help us.

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