Federal legislation seeks to create standard front-of-package label

Three members of Congress have proposed legislation that would create a standardized front-of-package label while requiring greater disclosure of sugar and caffeine content. The Food Labeling Modernization Act would also define the circumstances under which claims including “healthy” and “natural” may be made.

The legislation’s authors, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (CT), Rep. Rosa DeLauro (CT) and Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ), argue that labeling requirements are in need of a major overhaul after their last update in 1990.

The bill would require any product called “whole grain” to have the amount of whole grain as a percentage of total grain posted conspicuously on the label. It would also require the disclosure of the amount of caffeine in a product if it exceeds 10mg, as well as listing on the nutrition panel the daily values for calories and sugar plus the amount of any artificial sweetener.

In addition, the bill would require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to issue guidance clarifying the scientific support needed to prevent false information for “structure/function claims” for conventional food.

FDA plans to pursue a new labeling system were put on hold after Grocery Manufacturer’s Association (GMA) and Food Marketing Institute (FMI) undertook implementation of an industry labeling system in 2011. However, some nutrition advocacy groups say the program, Facts up Front, could actually further confuse consumers by only highlighting positive nutritional aspects.

GMA responded to the bill, saying, “The food and beverage industry is committed to providing consumers with the products and information they need to achieve and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Based on our preliminary analysis of this legislation, we are very concerned that it could have serious unintended consequences on a variety of products and will only serve to confuse consumers. GMA agrees with and supports federal laws requiring food labels to be truthful and non-misleading. There is a robust regulatory system in place to ensure the accuracy of information found on a food label. The accuracy of this information is further supported by the ongoing commitment by food companies to communicate with consumers in a way that is clear and accurate.”