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FDA Food Labeling Laws

The Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990 (NLEA) granted the FDA the authority to require nutrition labeling of most foods regulated by the Agency and to require that all nutrient content claims (i.e., 'high fiber', 'low fat', etc.) and health claims be consistent with agency regulations. Nutrition labeling is required for all packaged foods, while voluntary nutrition information is suggested for many raw foods including raw fruits, vegetables and fish.

Nutrition information is also required for restaurant foods about which health or nutrient-content claims are made by restaurants on their menus, signs or placards. Restaurants have to provide a "reasonable basis" for making claims, but they are given flexibility in demonstrating the reasonable basis.

The FDA’s most recent rule requires that the amount of trans fat  in a serving be listed on a separate line under saturated fat on the Nutrition Facts panel. However, trans fat does not have to be listed if the total fat in a food is less than 0.5 gram per serving and no claims are made about fat, fatty acids or cholesterol content. If it is not listed, a footnote will be added stating that the food is "not a significant source of trans fat.

The FDA announced a new initiative to address front of package ("FOP") labels because it revealed that it "had been receiving an increasing number of complaints that many food labels give a misleading picture of the health benefits of their products." Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg explained that, "ready access to reliable information about the calorie and nutrient content of food is even more important [today], given the prevalence of obesity and diet-related diseases in the United States."  Therefore, in October 2009, Commissioner Hamburg authorized the FDA to: (1) examine existing FOP labels for violations of current rules prohibiting false and misleading labels, (2) draft a new regulation providing a single set of science and nutrition-based criteria for FOP labeling to ensure consumers understand the actual healthfulness of food, (3) launch a consumer research program to determine the best ways to convey nutrition information, and (4) work with industry regarding a single FOP symbol to enhance the selection of healthy foods. The FDA sought comments on FOP labels and is working on creating the new initiative. The FDA announced it will begin with voluntary measures but consider regulations if necessary.

For More Information

FDA. Nutrition Initiative Questions and Answers. March 2010. (Accessed June 22, 2010).

FDA. New Front-of-Package Labeling Initiative. March 2010. (Accessed June 22, 2010).

Transcript for FDA's Media Briefing on Front-of-Pack Labeling. FDA Position on Front-of-Package Labeling. October 20, 2009. Remarks of Dr. Margaret Hamburg, Commissioner of Food and Drug Administration. (accessed June 18, 2010).