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December 15, 2023
Under the premise of highlighting nutritional information, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) introduced The Transparency, Readability, Understandability, Truth, and Helpfulness (TRUTH) in Labeling Act, or S.3512. The proposed legislation would require FDA to develop new front-of-package labels for foods and beverages.
The bill has components that will significantly affect the food industry. Besides the cost of revamping packaging with up-front nutrient positioning, much needed graphic space will be lost, as manufacturers will still need to maintain the Nutrition Facts label on the back or side of the packaging. FDA may also require manufacturers to highlight levels of nutrients that are considered high.
Buried deep in S.3512, there is another agenda. The secretary of Health and Human Services will monitor whether an increase occurs in products containing low- or no-calorie sweeteners in the food supply. The bill does not mention monitoring sodium, calories or saturated fat levels.
In a press announcement, Blumenthal noted that the proposed labels are standard in other countries.
“With prominently displayed salt, sugar and saturated fat content, consumers will be able to make healthy choices for themselves and their families,” he said. “Food companies have led the American people astray for too long. If consumers could see how much sodium, sugar and saturated fat is in their food, they might think twice about what they are purchasing.”
Currently, consumers need only look at the back of the package to see the sodium, sugar and saturated fat content per serving. In 2016, FDA updated nutritional labels to what was considered a more user-friendly format. The update required additional information, such as a breakdown of total sugar and a separate line for added sugar. Daily values and serving sizes were also revised.
Though the information proposed in S.3512 is already available to consumers, the bill states Congress finds the average American consumes substantially more added sugars, sodium and saturated fat than is recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Further, the bill claims that a large body of experimental and real-world evidence has demonstrated that front-of-package labels highlighting high levels of added sugars, sodium and saturated fat can significantly improve the nutritional quality of foods that consumers purchase or select.
Final regulations will require a standardized symbol system that displays calorie information related to serving size. Furthermore, the secretary may choose to highlight some nutrients to assist consumers in maintaining healthy dietary practices.
“Consumers should be able to quickly and easily comprehend the meaning of the system as an indicator of a product’s contribution to a healthy diet without requiring specific or sophisticated nutritional knowledge,” the bill states.
Within five years of the law’s enactment, the secretary will be required to report to Congress whether the implementation of the new labeling of nutritional information has been associated with an increase in the prevalence of products containing low- or no-calorie sweeteners in the U.S. food supply. If an increase occurs, the report must also describe actions the secretary will take to further monitor the use of low- and no-calorie sweeteners.
Numerous advocacy groups are on board with the bill, including the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Consumer Reports, Food & Water Watch, Hattie Maw & Pals Foundation and many others.
Cindy Hazen has more than 25 years of experience developing seasonings, dry blends, beverages and more. Today, when not writing or consulting, she expands her knowledge of food safety as a food safety officer for a Memphis-based produce distributor.
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