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Major Changes Set for Food Labels

Wed, 01/04/2006 - 3:41am

As reported by Jane Zhang of the Wall Street Journal Online, with the arrival of the new year, a host of additions and changes are in store for food labels. The presence of eight major allergens and the amount of trans fat in a product will have to be disclosed on labels as of Jan. 1.

But that's just the start. Among the other changes on the horizon, the Food and Drug Administration, which oversees most food labels, is considering giving calories more prominence on the food label -- by increasing the type size of the calorie listing, for example -- and requiring that nutrition information be spelled out for an entire package, not just for "servings." Already, Kraft Foods Inc. and Coca-Cola Co. are labeling nutrient information in dual columns on some packages-one side for the serving and the other for the whole bottle or box. A 20-ounce lime-flavored Coke now says that it has 26 grams of sugar based on the "standard serving," but 65 grams in the whole bottle. Also in 2006, the FDA will likely update dietary intake references for nutrients like vitamins to reflect new scientific reports from the National Academy of Sciences. 

 The flurry of label activity reflects several factors, from regulatory changes such as the implementation of a 2004 allergen law to food companies' own efforts to court health-conscious consumers. Consumer activists have met with some success in their quest for more informative labels. Meanwhile, certain health issues have gained more attention, such as food allergies and obesity.

 In response, food companies are investing billions of dollars to reformulate products and update their labels. And some are going further, in search of niche markets. Makers of cereals and breads are pushing new lines of "whole grain" products tied to whole grains' increased importance in the government's latest dietary guidelines.

But the transition to more informative labels is likely to bring some confusion, too. The FDA is allowing companies to continue to use labels that were made before 2006 -- without allergen declarations. And it has promised to extend deadlines for some companies having difficulty complying with the trans-fat rule.

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