News | December 15, 2015

Sens. Blumenthal, Markey, Reps. Pallone, DeLauro Introduce Legislation to Modernize Food Labeling

Legislation Seeks to Clarify and Update Nutrition Information, and Address Misleading Health Claims

(Washington, DC) U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA), with Representatives Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), have introduced the Food Labeling Modernization Act of 2015 in the Senate and House, respectively, which seeks to minimize confusing and misleading information that consumers encounter on food packages.

The Food Labeling Modernization Act approaches food labeling reform in a comprehensive manner, addressing front-of-package labeling, misleading health claims, and requiring updates to the Nutrition Facts label and the ingredient list.  FDA has proposed updating the Nutrition Facts label to require information about 'added sugars,' updated serving size requirements, and make calorie and serving size information more prominent.  FDA also recently requested public comment on the use of 'natural' on food products.

“The measure is a commonsense solution to ‎grocery store shelves that are filled with products labeled with confusing or deceptive dietary information,” Senator Blumenthal said. “The Food Labeling Modernization Act mandates critically important information for consumers by updating laws that have been unchanged since the 1990s. Americans deserve to know what is in the food they eat. By empowering consumers with accurate, truthful, and concise information, this legislation will enable them to make healthier choices, and outsmart deceptive pitches and promotions.”

“If ‘you are what you eat’ as the saying goes, then we need food labels to be as truthful as possible to ensure American families are eating healthy, nutritious food. The Food Labeling Modernization Act will help update America’s pantries, cupboards and refrigerators for the 21st century and ensure one-stop shopping begins with the label on food products,” said Senator Markey.

“When families make the effort to eat nutritious, healthy food, the labels on food products should help them make the right choices, not confuse or mislead them,” said Congressman Pallone.  “The Food Labeling Modernization Act addresses this problem by taking a comprehensive approach at ensuring consistency and clarity on food labels and setting reliable standards for what healthy and natural actually mean.  Healthy eating is especially critical to combating the growing epidemic of childhood obesity, which has nearly tripled in the past 30 years and is one of the most serious public health problems in this country.  For the health of our children and our country, the time is now for this long-overdue legislation”  

“I proudly coauthored this common-sense bill that simply provides more readily-available information to American families. The Food Labeling Modernization Act will give food labeling requirements in our country an important and long-overdue overhaul of our food labels to provide consumers with clear, accurate, and fair information about products,” said Congresswoman DeLauro.

Nutrition information, ingredient lists, and health-related claims on food labels can play an important role in the battle against obesity and diet-related disease, which are responsible for hundreds of thousands of premature deaths in the United States each year, as well as increased health care costs.  Food labeling requirements, however, are in need of a major overhaul.  Major food labeling provisions of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act have not been updated since 1990 and in some cases have not been changed since 1938.  As a result, labels do not provide the information that today’s consumer needs to evaluate and compare products in order to make healthy choices. 

In an effort to help consumers select healthy products, the Food Labeling Modernization Act’s signature initiative will direct the Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary to establish a single, standard front of package nutrition labeling system in a timely manner for all food products required to bear nutrition labeling.

The bill will also strengthen current law to target trends in marketing that confuse or mislead consumers when they are attempting to compare food products.  Specifically, the legislation will require new guidelines for the use of the words “healthy” or “made with whole grain.” The bill also requires the percent daily values for calories and sugar, as well as the amount of sugar that is not naturally occurring, be listed on the Nutrition Facts label.

“When ‘whole grain’ waffles can be made with white flour, and ‘all natural’ ingredients can contain synthetic high-fructose corn syrup, it’s clear our food labels are due for a makeover,” said CSPI director of regulatory affairs Laura MacCleery.  “And putting easy-to-interpret nutrition symbols on the fronts of packages would be a major advance for consumers who want to make healthy choices in an instant.”

“Food labels should inform -- not mislead -- consumers as they grocery shop,” said William Wallace, Policy Analyst for Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports. “Consumers deserve labeling that is simple, straightforward, and meaningful, so they can easily compare products and make healthy choices for their families.  The Food Labeling Modernization Act would make the significant, sensible updates to nutrition labels that consumers need.  We urge all members of Congress to support it.”

A section-by-section breakdown of the bill is available here.