Sebelius: FDA Will Require Health Labels on Front of Food Packages

By Edwin Mora | April 8, 2010 | 5:34 PM EDT

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius makes a trip to Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2009. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)

( -- Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Kathleen Sebelius said today that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is developing a new regulation  that would require food manufacturers to display nutritional information on the front of packages.
This would mean that the front of a Wheaties box, for example, would display not only the smiling face of a famous athlete but also declare how many calories from fat are in each serving.
“Busy shoppers will be able to go into grocery stores and have some easy to understand information on the front of packages giving them quick data on what is a healthier choice,” said Sebelius at the U.S. Capitol.
“The Food and Drug Administration right now is working with food manufacturers to not only update the nutritional labeling on the back of packages, which right now is written in small bar codes and pretty indecipherable and hasn’t been updated in 20 years, but to move to a front-of-package labeling strategy,” said Sebelius.

James McCarthy, the president and CEO of the Snack Food Association (SFA), which represents 400 snack food manufacturer and supplier companies worldwide, said that the FDA package-front-labeling requirements should be voluntary rather than mandated, adding that the rule would also create a cost burden to food manufacturers.
“If it is done, we would prefer to have it be voluntary as opposed to being mandatory, and we want to make sure that it’s consistent,” McCarthy told
“There are huge cost implications, for changing your packaging is very costly,” he said. “Many of our companies are smaller, medium-sized companies that would find it very burdensome to have to change all of their packaging.”
“We think that the companies that want to be able to do this should be able to do it, but it should be uniform in the way that it’s done and there should be certain standards that have to be met,” said McCarthy. “But since we already provide a nutritional label on the back of the packaging and all the information is there, an additional label on the front -- we don’t think it should be mandatory.”
According to the FDA Web site,  food manufacturers currently have a number of options for displaying nutrition facts. Essentially, they can put them on any panel that can be seen by the consumer.
She went on to explain that as a starting point for the “front of labeling strategy,” HHS has required that self-labeling by food manufacturers be terminated and replaced with an “evidence-based approach,” adding that a national standard is in the works.
“As the initial launch to that project we did send a warning signal to food manufacturers that they had to immediately cease self-labeling, which was going on,” said Sebelius.
She said that the government had told food manufacturers that if they were going to label their product a “healthy choice,” there had to be a scientific basis for it.
“So we did strongly suggest that those healthy labels needed to have some actually scientific background, some evidence-based approach and that we would be developing a national standard,” the HHS secretary continued.
First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign to combat childhood obesity is promoting the FDA plan to require package-front labeling, Sebelius said. 
“So all of that effort is underway promoted either by the -- some of it involves the first lady's initiative some of it is part of the Accountable Care Act, some of it is funded in our 2010 and 2011 budgets -- but I think that there is no question that this administration has focused on health and public health prevention and wellness in a way that really hasn’t been highlighted,” said Sebelius. 
“Food labeling is required for most prepared foods, such as breads, cereals, canned and frozen foods, snacks, desserts, drinks, etc. Nutrition labeling for raw produce (fruits and vegetables) and fish is voluntary,” according to the FDA.