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Widespread changes in US food labeling spell new verbiage for all retail packs.

After years of debate between the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS), a sweeping new agreement was reached during the eleventh hour of the Bush Administration regarding food nutritional labeling. "The food industry now has some certainty in the label changes that need to be made so our companies are in compliance with the law and its regulations," said Steven C. Anderson, president of the American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI).

The regulations, which implement the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990, require processors to revise labels on all food products by no later than May of 1994, and to adhere to stricter regulations on using various descriptors and health and nutrition content claims.

The new label format will list grams of components, such as fat and cholesterol, that a product contains. In addition, that number will be expressed as a percentage of the recommended total amount of fat and cholesterol a consumer should eat daily, based on a hypothetical 2,000 calorie (65 grams of fat) a day diet. Detailed information on exactly what the food labels will have to contain - down to the size of print - will be printed in the final regulations.

4,000 Pages' Worth

Among the vast changes spelled out in the 4,000-page agreement are specific requirements on the use of the word "light." Some definitional confusion still exists within the trade, though.

Such a claim will be permitted to designate a 50% reduction in sodium content only, according to AFFI'S interpretation. And the letter height of "light" and sodium must be the same. Claims made on retaurant menus are exempt from the regulations.

The International Ice Cream Association reads the meaning of "light" as one delinking fat and calories. "Our understanding is that |light' will generally depict products which have achieved at least a one-third reduction in calories or a 50% reduction of fat," said Jerry Kozak, the trade group's vice president for scientific and regulatory affairs.

He elaborated: "In cases where a product gets 50% or more of its calories from fat, a 50% reduction in fat will be required, but the one-third calorie reduction will not be required. This means, for example, that ice cream manufacturers will be able to use the term |light' for a product which has the 50% fat reduction only. The one-third calorie reduction could not be achieved for ice cream because of the nature of the product."

Kozak expressed some reservations about the label revamping: "First, will consumers really understand it? It is very confusing. Second, the cumbersome format will be difficult to place on many small packaged items, such as yogurt."

He also called into question the basing of nutrient percentages on a 2,000 a day diet, which is generally appropriate only for women and children. "We object to this |one size fits all' approach to labeling," said Kozak. "As it stands, a majority of consumers - including men, teenage boys, pregnant and lactating women - will not receive the proper nutrition information from the label."
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Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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