Opinions mixed locally on new food labels proposed by FDA - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Opinions mixed locally on new food labels proposed by FDA

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MADISON, Wisconsin (WKOW) -- The Food and Drug Administration is proposing what first lady Michelle Obama called an "overhaul" of the food labeling process Thursday.

"This will be the new norm in providing consumers with information about the food we buy and eat," the first lady said.

Food labels were last updated in the 1990's.

"Consumers 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," she said.

The new food labels would display a product's calories per serving, as well as the serving sizes contained per container, in bigger, bolder font.

"By making that more prominent, it will be easier for people to see how much is in there and if they eat a portion, or the whole container, they'll know how much they're getting in terms of calories or other nutrients." said Dr. Beth Olson, of the UW-Madison's Nutritional Sciences Department.

The proposed, new labels would also add a section specifying how much sugar in a product is naturally occurring and how much is added.

Olson said all sugars, at their core, are the "same compounds." So it would be up to manufacturers making the products to know what was used in the production process and label added sugars accordingly.

"I think it helps consumers decide where they want their sugar coming from," Olson said.

Other proposed changes to labels include in the vitamins and minerals listed and in the "calories from fat" amount, which will be eliminated altogether.

Olson said, while it's still important for consumers to monitor their fat intake, some types of fats can be healthy.

According to the FDA, trans and saturated fats are the two varieties to steer clear of.

Brandon Scholz, President of the Wisconsin Grocers Association, said the WGA has not taken a position on the labeling proposal yet.

But he said new government regulations always make grocers anxious.

"If that label gets so big, pretty soon you can't the see the packaging," Scholz said.

"Just to change labeling isn't cheap," he added. "It will cost the industry more than $2-billion."
"Somebody's got to pay for that and, generally, how that bill gets paid is by people who buy those products," Scholz said.

Scholz is also concerned about proposed changes to serving size calculations.

Under the FDA proposal, some serving sizes would be altered to more realistically reflect what people are eating. Scholz cited the example of a pint of ice cream, now labeled as four servings, being labeled as two servings under the proposed changes.

"They must have some science behind (those changes)," he said. "I think people will be looking for that. They'll say, 'Tell us where you determined that this is now a two-serving size rather than a four-serving size.'"

Olson said current serving sizes are outdated and need to be updated. Although she added changing them does not guarantee changes in consumer behavior.

"The food label is just one tool in helping people pick a healthy diet," Olson said.
"It will be helpful for people, but I think we have to be realistic in that just changing the label isn't going to change how people eat," she said.

The FDA will take three months of public comments on its proposal. Scholz said it then has the ability to make changes before implementing the new labels.

Manufacturers would be given two years to comply with the new guidelines. Although Scholz said the changes would be costly.

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