WASHINGTON -- Congress approved a sweeping bill yesterday to curtail disease prevention claims on food packages and require more nutrition information for virtually all foods in the grocery store.
The bill, the first comprehensive new legislation on food labels in two decades, is expected to end a three-year period of confusion about what claims food manufacturers could make for their products.
The measure was approved by a voice vote in the Senate. The House approved a similar version three months earlier. The two versions are so much alike that no conference between the two houses is considered necessary, and the legislation is likely to be sent to the White House today after a routine vote in the House.
President Bush is expected to sign the bill, congressional leaders said.
The measure requires the Food and Drug Administration to create a list of a few claims that may be made by food makers and to disallow claims, for example, that some cereals or doughnuts contain fiber and thus may reduce the risk of cancer, or that peanut butter contains no cholesterol and therefore may reduce the risk of heart disease.
Each claim must be based on scientific proof. For example, a food maker could state that foods low in saturated fat, when part of a reasonable diet, can help reduce the chances of getting heart disease.
On nutritional labeling, the legislation requires the addition of several new items, including the numbers of calories from fat, the amount of fiber, the amount of saturated fat and the amount of cholesterol.
Labeling will be extended to fresh fruits and produce. Their labels will most likely be on signs on shelves.