Experts hope FDA improves specific areas of interest on Nutrition Facts labels.

Experts hope FDA improves specific areas of interest on Nutrition Facts labels.


WASHINGTON – Labels offering nutrition facts may be unclear to consumers because of skewed serving sizes and a lack of ingredient breakdowns, according to experts. But the Food and Drug Administration is expected to propose improvements when the agency releases a new design Thursday.

There is “a lot of homework for the FDA,” said Michael Jacobson, co-founder and executive director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which hosted a panel discussion Wednesday.

The non-profit health advocacy organization fights obesity and looks to promote healthy hearts. Jacobson successfully lobbied for the 1990 Nutrition Labeling and Education Act, which put Nutrition Facts labels on foods.

Many nutritionists and marketing analysts agree that the original Nutrition Label rule has consistently helped consumers make wise decisions in their food purchases.

But Darren Seifer, a food and beverage industry analyst, said “drastic changes” in the way Americans consume and buy food mandate changes in what is included in Nutrition Facts labels.

People under the age of 50 tend to look at labels to make sure that they are eating the right amount of fiber, for example. In contrast, people over 50 use labels to monitor things they want to avoid, such as sodium, said Seifer.

Michael Taylor, FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods, was with the agency when the label first originated. The FDA has been working on improving Nutrition Facts for over a decade, according to the Associated Press.

Buyers could have better experiences finding what they want in the market place with improved organization of the ingredients and a larger font size on the Nutrition Facts labels. Thursday’s launch by FDA will hopefully address these problems.

The program needs an overhaul, said Chef Gregory Silverman, who directs Share Our Strength which aims to increase participation in federal nutrition programs.

Nutritionists question particular aspects of the labels and want clarifications that would make healthier foods stand out. Ideally, the new Nutrition Facts labels would help to distinguish the “good” Calories from Fat from the “bad” ones. Also, defining what “Sugar” truly means for purposes of labeling is important. Sugar from milk and fruit differs from “Added Sugar.”

The FDA will most likely not change the way sugar is measured, said Jane Andrews, corporate nutrition manager for Wegmans, a grocery chain. Andrews said that determining the breakdown of natural sugar and added sugar cannot simply be tested in labs.  But she said she would be very surprised if there were changes in the Sugar category on the new label Thursday.

Consumers may be unfazed by the details. Many are parents being rushed and distracted by their kids in supermarkets. Some have poor reading skills or use English as a second language, according to Burkey Belser, president and creative director of brand design agency Greenfield-Belser.

“We want [consumers] to, wherever they are, make a choice,” said Besler. “We want healthy choices to be easy choices.”