FDA debuts first new food labels in two decades, as foes finally cave in

FDAservesizeFDAnewlabelFDAlabelb4afterAfter two decades, Uncle Sam finally has decided to change the way Americans get important health information from labels on their food.

The changes required by the federal Food and Drug Administration will take full effect by July 2018. But the battling over this public health measure has gone on since 2014─and some big agricultural lobbies lost out in their concerted efforts, for example, to keep the public from knowing about added sugar in what we eat.

The new labels aim to be bolder, clearer, and easier to read (see middle figure above) . They reflect more current nutritional thinking, especially taking into account how Americans’ consumption has changed in recent years, including the portion sizes we devour (see far right figure, above).

I’ve written before about the confusion that health experts create when they seek to provide the public with increased dietary information in the hopes of reducing America’s overeating and obesity epidemic. I’ve also described how federal officials are campaigning to get Americans to slash their sugar intake to combat diabetes, as well as cardiovascular disease.

And while millions of us exercise great diligence in trying to eat healthy, many experts have expressed doubts that providing information alone about what we eat makes a decisive difference, especially since the food industry has proven so successful in getting so many of us addicted to junk. Labeling has proved controversial not only in packaging, of course, but also on restaurant menus and signage.

Still, considering the intense lobbying by sugar and other agricultural interests, which hated food labeling since it began decades ago and has opposed these changes since they were first proposed, credit’s due to the Obama Administration for its healthy persistence. Reports say First Lady Michelle Obama played a key role in standing down labeling opponents.

Meantime, Congress─if it takes up a proposal by a Connecticut senator and a Maine congresswoman─also may get Uncle Sam in a different position to help consumers better understand when they can still eat or when they should toss food according to its makers’ labels. The FDA does not set the rules for deeming food and its “best by” or “use by” or “expires on” stamping. I’ve written recently about sensible eating and how critics say the current consumer confusion leads to huge amounts of food going to waste as we play it safe and toss perfectly fine edibles.

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