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Why the FDA might require nutrition labels on the front of food packages

Researchers looked at the success of this labeling system in other countries where it is already mandated, such as Colombia, Brazil and Canada.
Shopper looking at a nutrition label in a grocery store
Posted at 12:44 PM, Jun 10, 2024

Soon there could be nutrition labels on the front of food packages at the grocery store — not just on the back or side.

The Food and Drug Administration said the goal of potentially implementing this new label on prepackaged goods is to “help ensure that consumers in the U.S. have greater access to nutrition information they can use to identify healthier food choices.”

Having a symbol or label claim on the front of food packages has the potential to make it easier and faster for shoppers to make healthier choices, the FDA said.

The front-of-package (FOP) nutrition label proposal comes after years of research prompted by the White House’s “National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition and Health” released in 2022.

The Reagan-Udall Foundation, a private nonprofit mandated by Congress to support FDA strategies and research, presented some of its findings last fall.

One of the experimental studies involved an online questionnaire given to adults in the U.S. that asked them to identify mock products with the drafted FOP labels from “healthiest” and “least healthy.”

The study found FOP labels can help busy shoppers identify healthy foods, particularly if they’re not as versed in nutrition. The research also found consumers prefer a simpler FOP label and the versions used in the study complement the larger nutrition label found on the back of packaged food products.

The presentation included a variety of FDA stakeholders with recommendations for the FOP labels. Many agreed the labels should be mandatory and should solely highlight negative nutritional information, or “nutrients of concern,” found in the products such as high sugar, sodium or saturated fats.

The concept of FOP labels isn’t something new, however. Researchers looked at the success of this labeling system in other countries where it is already mandated, such as Colombia, Brazil and Canada.

In Chile specifically, there has been a notable decrease in the purchases of “unhealthy” food products after three years of implementing an FOP label system that includes a simple, octagon-shaped symbol on the packages with concise text such as “high in calories.” That’s according to the Global Food Research Program at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.

Though several mock FOP labels were used in the studies, the FDA has not specified which label design it plans to propose.

In addition to the FOP labels, the agency has also made plans to develop a “healthy” symbol that could appear on food packages that fit its updated definition of the claim.

The FDA is expected to propose the label changes this month based on the Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions published by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Based on the latest info on the FDA’s website, the research conducted for the new label system is under peer review.