FDA promotes new, detailed food labels

May 03, 1994|By Edwin Chen | Edwin Chen,Los Angeles Times

The federal government, joined by an array of health and consumer groups, unveiled a huge education campaign yesterday to encourage Americans to use the new and vastly simplified nutritional labels that soon will be on all processed foods -- from potato chips and candy to salad dressing and processed meat and poultry products.

"The new food label represents nothing less than an enormous public health opportunity that comes only rarely," said David A. Kessler, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. "Using the new label, Americans will be able to make truly informed choices about the food they eat."

The labels, mandated by the 1990 Nutrition Labeling and Education Education Act, represent the most sweeping revision ever of food labels, which were introduced in 1973.

Starting Sunday, manufacturers must place the new labels on all processed foods, with the exception of meat and poultry products, which do not have to be in compliance until July 6. Stores, however, may continue to sell inventories of products made without the labels before those deadlines.

The new labels must follow a strict format showing the amount of calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, proteins and some vitamins and minerals in each serving.

In addition, foods must meet certain criteria before makers are allowed to make such claims as "cholesterol free" or "low calorie." Thus, Mr. Kessler said, "when the label says, 'low fat,' or 'high fiber,' you can be confident that the phrase . . . means something."

Together, those rules represent a vast departure from the old labels, which were voluntary and allowed manufacturers wide latitude in characterizing ingredients.

The new requirements were hailed as "a public health milestone and a great victory for the American consumer" by Michael F. Jacobson, head of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, ++ the same group that recently released a study showing unusually high fat content in popcorn sold at many movie theaters.

Consumers have noticed the new labels in stores for months because many manufacturers adopted them long before the deadline.

The quantities of nutrients are listed not only in absolute amounts -- grams or milligrams -- but also as a percent of "daily value," based on a 2,000-calorie diet, roughly the average daily adult intake.

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