Administration dispute stalls proposed changes in food nutrition labels

November 08, 1992|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- Officials from two Cabinet department remained stalemated yesterday over how best to revise the nation's food labels and are not expected to meet tomorrow's deadline for issuing the final proposals.

The Food and Drug Administration, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, has been locked for months in a battle with the Agriculture Department over how much nutritional information the new labels should contain.

"We've worked very hard over the last two years to get useful information to consumers, and we've essentially completed the regulations," FDA Commissioner David A. Kessler said yesterday. "Our regulations are done. We've met our deadline. And we've been trying to get them out."

But the White House -- which has the last word -- has refused to weigh into the dispute.

Traditionally, the Agriculture Department has favored the industry, and the FDA and the Department of Health and Human Services have been pro-consumer, which has meant "this kind of war happens all the time," said one White House official who declined to be identified. "The White House is not siding with either. We are remaining neutral."

If the dispute is not resolved by tomorrow, earlier draft proposals released by the FDA a year ago are scheduled to take effect. Although somewhat different, those proposals are in many ways tougher than the stalled final regulations.

Officials on both sides said yesterday that they believed that new regulations could still be issued within several weeks if the conflicts are settled. But FDA officials, aware that the incoming Clinton administration will almost certainly back strong pro-consumer label regulations, are not expected to back down.

One of the biggest items in contention is the format of the nutrition information panel on the label, which typically discloses quantities of fat, calories, carbohydrates, fiber, protein, cholesterol, sodium, vitamins and minerals.

The FDA wants to expand this information to present each nutrient in the context of daily nutritional requirements.

For example, a label for a product with 10 grams of fat would say so, but would also say that in a daily diet of 2,000 calories, 65 grams of fat would be the daily value -- the target amount of what one should eat.

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