Do we need a “new” Nutritional Facts Panel?

January 28, 2014

The simple answer is yes!

The big food news that hit the airwaves this past Friday is how the FDA and White House are finally about to announce the newly updated Nutrition Facts label on food and beverages. And it is highly overdue. In fact, the agency has been discussing a change since 2003 that would include more accurate serving sizes, a greater emphasis on calories and a diminished role in the daily percent values for substances like fat, sodium and carbohydrates.

While much of the discussion has focused on what nutrients to add or highlight, the bottom line for us here at The Lempert Report is that the current label doesn't empower shoppers to make changes in their eating habits. We know we consume too many calories, and it is true that many products still contain misleading serving sizes, which are clearly a part of the problem; it’s time for change. We also do not believe that having additional front of package labeling schemes are the solution – whether it is number, star, traffic light or symbol based. What we hear from shoppers is that they are confused.

Whether the discussion is about grams versus teaspoons, or naturally occurring sugars versus added sugars, or even the types of fats in an ingredient statement; all these issues these underscore the confusion.

One of our pet peeves has been understanding the reasoning behind regulations that allow for the amount of fat in a recipe to be listed as zero grams of fat in the Nutritional Facts Panel if it is 0.5 grams of fat or less per serving; especially when the serving size is unrealistic. Regulations like these undermine consumer confidence in our food industry – and it is time to build confidence and that’s one of our hopes for a new easy to comprehend panel. 

It may be odd to compare a food label to a cell phone…but look back 20 years when cell phones ranged from the Motorola “brick” to the much more advanced Motorola flip phone. A traditional keypad that illuminated or would store 10 to 20 phone numbers was about the only features of note. Today, imagine a mobile device without a touch screen that also has access to the Internet, our calendars and of course those thousands of apps that make our food shopping experience better. Our cell phones have kept pace with the way people communicate; it is time for our Nutritional Labeling to do the same and use the language of 2015.

We applaud the FDA and White House for finally pushing this to the top of the list and hope that the passion that got it there continues until the updated Nutritional Facts Panel becomes reality.