The labels on the food you buy are going to look a lot different in the next two to three years, and the government hopes the change will help you make healthier decisions.
Major changes to nutrition labels on food packages became final on Friday,
First lady Michelle Obama made the announcement about the FDA-approved revamp of the labels today. The new labels should make it easier for you to see how many calories you are eating, with a bolder font. Manufacturers will also have to list how much added sugar is in the food you are buying.
It was the first significant redrawing of the nutrition information on food labels since the federal government started requiring them in the early 1990s. Those labels were based on eating habits and nutrition data from the 1970s and ’80s and before portion sizes expanded significantly. Federal health officials argued that the changes were needed to bring labels into step with the reality of the modern American diet.
The Food and Drug Administration proposed the changes in 2014, but consumer advocates worried that many of the major elements would not survive lobbying by the powerful food industry. A number of companies vigorously opposed, for example, a separate line for added sugars. But the final rule, announced by Michelle Obama on Friday, mostly remained intact, including the line on added sugars.
“This has to be scored as a huge win,” said Marion Nestle, a professor in the department of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University. “The F.D.A.’s final rules confirm what the agency proposed originally on the most important elements. The big ones — calories, added sugars — survived.”
The changes jump out. The calories are in large bold numbers, and are easier to spot at a glance. A single ice cream serving is two-thirds of a cup — compared with the current half cup.
Most food manufacturers will be required to use the new label by July 2018. Producers with less than $10 million in annual food sales will have an additional year to comply.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents food and beverage companies, said, “We look forward to working with F.D.A. and other stakeholders on messages and activities to help consumers understand what the new labels mean.”
But the sugar industry did not relent in its criticism. The Sugar Association said it was “disappointed” by the F.D.A.’s decision to require a separate line for added sugars. It argued that the rule lacked “scientific justification.”
The association said, “We are concerned that the ruling sets a dangerous precedent that is not grounded in science, and could actually deter us from our shared goal of a healthier America.”
Getting the original nutrition labels on food packages was a major battle. Dr. David Kessler, the former F.D.A. commissioner, said the fight went all the way to the Oval Office, where the first President George Bush sided with the agency in what was considered a major victory for public health.
“They got this right,” he said of the new changes in an interview on Friday. “This will affect people’s lives. It gives really important information to people who want to use it.”
The majority of Americans do look at labels when they shop. According to government research, about 77% of U.S. adults say they do.
“The updated label makes improvements to this valuable resource so consumers can make more informed food choices,” FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf said in a statement today. Making better choices is “one of the most important steps a person can take to reduce the risk of heart disease and obesity.”