Taking a Fresh Look at Labeling Regulations

Delays and adjustments in three areas—menu, GMO and Nutrition Facts labels—have business implications.
Store employees checking labels

It pays to stay current on nutrition regulations that could affect your business. Let’s look at three areas involving labeling and what’s happening with each.  

Menu Labeling Law

The Menu Labeling Law requires restaurants with 20 or more units to display calorie counts on their menus if they operate under the same name and serve similar menu items. The law’s implementation date has been pushed back to May 7, 2018. The law was supposed to take effect a year earlier, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made the extension to provide time to reduce the financial impact and focus on possible flexibility. 

What’s the latest?

In the months leading up to the 2017 implementation date, the Common Sense Nutrition Act was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. By July, the bill was before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The Common Sense Nutrition Act proposes these revisions to the Menu Labeling Law:

“The nutrient content disclosure statement on the menu or menu board must include: (1) the number of calories contained in the whole menu item; (2) the number of servings and number of calories per serving; or (3) the number of calories per common unit of the item, such as for a multi-serving item that is typically divided before presentation to the consumer. Nutritional information may be provided solely by a remote-access menu (e.g., an Internet menu) for food establishments where the majority of orders are placed by customers who are off-premises.”

GMO Disclosure Act

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been a hot topic for several years. As transparency has become more common, so is the desire to know more about ingredients—including  the use of GMOs. When individual states started to explore labeling requirements, the topic turned into a broader discussion about labeling and GMO ingredients. 

In 2016, the GMO Disclosure Act was passed by Congress and signed into law. The act requires a “national mandatory bioengineered food disclosure standard.” Upon enactment, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) was given two years to establish:

“1) a national mandatory bioengineered food disclosure standard for any bioengineered food and any food that may be bioengineered, and (2) requirements and procedures to carry out the standard.”

In today’s high-tech world, the law allowed GMO labeling to be written, indicated by a symbol or noted with using an electronic or digital source such as a Quick Response (QR) code.

What’s the latest?

Since the bill became law, the investigation on how to implement it continues. The USDA has been working toward its mid-2018 deadline to establish disclosure standards and procedures. The USDA issued 30 questions that were posted online for comments through August 25, 2017. The USDA also is studying whether using digital or electronic technology would present challenges when labeling GMO products.

What’s next? Based on when the GMO Disclosure Law was signed, we will expect to know more information by July 2018.

Nutrition Facts label

The revised Nutrition Facts Label Final Rule became effective in July 2016. The compliance date for food companies with annual sales of $10 million or more was set for July 26, 2018. Key changes include the label itself and serving size. Serving sizes are required to represent an actual serving. This means in some instances serving sizes must be updated to provide a more realistic serving size—a change driven by the recognition that serving sizes have changed over time. Some other key changes to the Nutrition Facts panel include:

  • Serving size and calorie information will have an increased font size and bold font.
  • Sugars will now list both a total sugar amount as well as an added sugar amount.
  • New nutrients required:
    • Vitamin D
    • Potassium
  • No longer required:
    • Vitamin A
    • Vitamin C
  • More information required for nutrients—must list the actual amount in addition to the previously required percent daily value (%DV).
    • Daily Values were updated based on more recent scientific evidence that was used to help establish the 2015-2022 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

What’s the latest?

On June 13, 2017, the FDA announced it will extend the Nutrition Facts panel compliance date. A proposed rule could extend the compliance date to January 1, 2020 or January 1, 2021 – depending on the annual sales of the food manufacturer as noted above. The extension is being granted to give manufacturers additional time to make packaging changes and allow more FDA guidance.

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