The Ever-Changing Landscape of Food Labeling
Posted by , MS, RD, LD, FADA

Nutrition labels

The political climate in the United States can impact the status of regulations, including those related to food; often democratic administrations tend to implement regulations and republican administrations are more likely to roll back or extend the implementation timing of regulations.  We have already begun to see these changes in the first months of the new administration.

Here are updates on key pieces of food regulation:

  • Menu Labeling. Designed to provide calorie information on menu options at restaurants as well as make more detailed nutrition information available to consumers upon request, the implementation date has been extended until May 7, 2018. By the time the extension was announced, many restaurants and grocery retailers (who sell ready-to-eat foods that are included in the regulation) had started posting the information, which benefits consumers in their food purchase decision making. In early November, FDA provided guidance to address concerns regarding the labeling implementation – the reason for the latest delay.
  • Nutrition Facts Panel Updates. This regulation created sweeping changes to the Nutrition Facts Panel, which was originally rolled out more than 20 years ago. Changes to the on-pack nutrition information included more prominence of calories, the addition of added sugar, replacing vitamin A and C declarations with potassium and vitamin D, and changes to the definition of fiber. In mid-June, the FDA announced they were extending the implementation deadline, originally scheduled for July of 2018. In early October, the FDA announced they were proposing the implementation deadline be extended to January 2020 for larger food companies.
  • Healthy Definition. In December of 2016, FDA began the process to redefine the nutrient content claim healthy. While the current definition of healthy includes limits on total and saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium and requires the presence of beneficial nutrients include vitamins, minerals, and fiber, the goal for the new definition is to better align with the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and current science. FDA’s action was also a result of a citizen’s petition by KIND LLD, which recommended changes to the definition. A key element of the petition focused on the fact that there are foods containing healthy fats like mono– and polyunsaturates that should be allowed to carry the healthy FDA provided an open comment period through April 26, 2017 to capture input on how healthy should be defined in the future. They are now in the process of reviewing the comments received; the next step will be a proposed new definition of healthy after which there will be another comment period before the regulation is finalized.
  • National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Law. This bill was signed into law on July 26, 2016, and the USDA is now in the process of writing a proposed rule for the labeling of foods that include a bioengineered component. Because genetic material is only in protein, a key element of this process will be determining if disclosure will be necessary for foods and ingredients where the seed grown has a bioengineered trait, but for which there is no protein in the food as sold (such as oils).