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Politico reports that the Obama administration and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will today "unveil the most sweeping update to nutrition labeling on food packages in more than two decades," changes that will offer consumers "a reality check about how many calories and how much sugar they are consuming."

The new rules will call for labels to have a much bigger, bolder font for the calories in a product, make larger (and more realistic) what passes for a serving size, and will require the listing of additional sugars contained in items.

According to the Politico story, "Food policy experts say the bold announcement, which is expected to anger the food industry, proves (First Lady Michelle) Obama is willing to tackle a serious and controversial policy fight after some advocates had been critical of her willingness to partner with food companies, like Subway and Walmart, in her campaign to fight childhood obesity.

"Mandating that food companies list exactly how much sugar they add to products on the nutrition label, for example, is a thorny issue that is likely to rile up fierce food and beverage industry opposition in the coming weeks … Industry groups are already looking at a long list of food policy changes from the Obama administration, including a proposed trans fat ban, major new food safety regulations and forthcoming restaurant menu-labeling requirements. The FDA estimates the Nutrition Facts overhaul alone will cost the industry about $2 billion."

The story goes on to say that "one of the most significant changes in the new labeling proposal would require big updates to the serving sizes listed on Nutrition Facts panels to bring them more in line with what people are actually eating, which would upend some current nutrition labels.

"Take a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream. It is currently listed as having four servings, with each serving accounting for 280 calories and 9 grams of saturated fat, or 45 percent of the daily value. Under the new proposal, that pint would be listed as just two servings, so the new label might instead read 560 calories and 18 grams of saturated fat, or 90 percent of the daily value, per serving."

Packaging will also "have to provide two columns in the Nutrition Facts panel for both 'per serving' and 'per package' for larger packages of foods that could possibly be consumed in one or multiple sittings."

Politico reports that while food industry groups are "responding politely" to the new proposals, partly because the optics of responding negatively to them would not be good, and in part because attacking Michelle Obama is not seen as a politically winning strategy. However, behind the scenes, industry groups are characterized as being unhappy, seeing the proposals as "sort of a laundry list of everything the industry didn’t want."

In a prepared statement, Michelle Obama says, "Our guiding principle here is very simple: that you as a parent and a consumer should be able to walk into your local grocery store, pick up an item off the shelf and be able to tell whether it’s good for your family. So this is a big deal, and it’s going to make a big difference for families all across this country."

Politico says that the FDA is fast-tracking the proposals, with the goal of having them formally in place "within the next year, after which point food companies would probably have at least two years to adopt the new labels, so that the changes can take affect before the end of the Obama administration."
KC's View:
Being the result of bureaucratic/government development, I'm sure there will be some legitimate issues raised about these new proposed rules. But I also think that in the end, the food industry has to err on the side of providing too much information. Some will suggest that too much information will confuse the consumer, but I think that this often is an excuse, because there are times, let's face it, when food companies do better when facts are obfuscated.

In a 2014 economy and culture, that sort of approach won't ultimately fly.