WASHINGTONThree members of Congress today introduced legislation to overhaul food labeling requirements in an attempt to eliminate confusing or misleading information and help Americans make healthier eating choices.
The Food Labeling Modernization Act of 2013 would constitute the first significant reform of major labeling provisions since 1990, the lawmakers said.
The legislation would establish a uniform nutritional labeling system on the front of packages, with symbols revealing information on calories related to a common serving size. Food packages also would have to disclose information concerning nutrients that correlate to strong public health concerns.
"Consumers should be able to quickly and easily comprehend the meaning of the symbol system as an indicator of a product's contribution to a healthy diet," the legislation declares.
Childhood obesity has nearly tripled over the past three decades, and consumers need information to make healthy eating decisions to combat such an epidemic, said Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.) in a statement. Pallone sponsored the legislation along with two Democrats from Connecticut, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro and Sen. Richard Blumenthal.
The legislation directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services to occasionally evaluate the labeling information "to assess its ability to help facilitate consumer selection of healthy product options and the extent to which manufacturers are offering healthier products as a result of the disclosure."
The Food Labeling Modernization Act of 2013 also is intended to eradicate the misleading information on food labels that some consumer advocates claim is pervasive.
The legislation would mandate new guidelines for the use of the words healthy" or made with whole grain", the lawmakers noted in a press release. Also, the percent daily values for calories and sugar, and the quantity of sugar that is not naturally occurring, would have to be listed on the Nutrition Facts Panel, they said.
Grocery stores throughout the country are filled with products that bear labels with deceptive dietary information," Blumenthal said in a statement. The Food Labeling Modernization Act updates laws that havent been touched since 1930s, ensuring that consumers will know what theyre eating and parents will know what theyre feeding their kids."
Consumer advocates including Consumers Union and the Center for Science in the Public Interest said the legislation would help consumers make more informed decisions about the foods they buy.
Many of the labels on food currently dont give consumers all the information they need to make informed decisions about the food they buy. This legislation would take a big, common sense step forward in improving the nutrition information available about the food that consumers are putting in their cart and on their kitchen tables," said Ami Gadhia, senior policy counsel for Consumers Union, in a statement.
Representatives for the American Beverage Association and Grocery Manufacturers Association did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the legislation.
Regulations adopted under the legislation would have to consider published reports of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences. In a report two years ago, a committee with the Institute of Medicine recommended that federal agencies develop a nutrition rating system with symbols to display on the front of beverage and food packages.
The system would enable shoppers to recognize healthier food and encourage food and beverage companies to develop more nutritious products, Ellen Wartella, the committee chair and a professor of Northwestern University, said in a statement at the time.
The report visualized a rating system in which beverages and foods earn points if amounts of certain nutrients posing health concernssuch as added sugars, trans fat and sodiummet or fell below certain levels that are considered acceptable. Points would be displayed on packaging as a symbol like a star. Boiling down complex information using symbols could be particularly helpful to populations with low literacy, the report argued.
The committee, comprised largely of academics from universities across the United States, "concluded that a single, standardized system that is easily understood by most age groups and appears on all food products would best maximize the effectiveness in encouraging consumers to make healthier food choice and purchase decisions."