Congress on August 3 introduced the Food Labeling Modernization Act of 2021 (H.R. 4917 or 2021 Bill), a bill that proposes to amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) to improve requirements related to summary nutrient information found on food labels.
If passed, the 2021 Bill would direct the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to:
- establish a standardized symbol system for front-of-package labels, displaying calorie information in relation to serving size, as well as information related to the content of saturated and trans fats, sodium, added sugars, and any other nutrients that are deemed to be “strongly associated with public health concerns;”
- establish warning symbols for foods that are high in saturated or trans fats, sodium, added sugars, and any other nutrients that should be limited or discouraged;
- establish a stop-light, points, star, or other signaling system to rank foods according to their overall health value; and
- require that the summary nutrition information appear on the principal display panel (PDP)—using a prominent design that contrasts with the packaging and is easily legible—of all products that bear a nutrition label.
Importantly, the 2021 Bill would also direct FDA to define the terms “natural,” “healthy,” “artificial,” and “synthetic,” as well as establish an added sugars level that would automatically disqualify the food from including any health claims. The 2021 Bill also provides for FDA to request from manufacturers documentation substantiating all health claims, after which manufacturers would have 90 days to comply.
Under the 2021 Bill, manufacturers or importers of foods introduced into interstate commerce in package form would also be required to submit to FDA all labeling information, including the Nutrition Facts Panel, ingredients list, image of the PDP, any major allergens and gluten-containing grains, any nutrient content claims, and any health-related claims. They would also have to update or supplement their submissions if any information changed. Failure to submit labeling information could result in a civil penalty not to exceed $10,000 for each day on which the violation occurs.
If passed, the 2021 Bill would require significant changes to most food labels, imposing significant requirements on both FDA and food manufacturers/importers. Nevertheless, it is too early to know its outcome, since the bill will need to be passed by the Senate before it is signed by the president and becomes law. Notably, both the 2015 and 2018 versions of the 2021 Bill—which was introduced by Democratic Senators Richard Blumenthal, Sheldon Whitehouse, and Ed Markey, as well as Democratic Representatives Frank Pallone, Jr. and Rosa DeLauro—were unsuccessful.