Food Labeling

Nutrition, Labeling, and PackagingWhich federal agencies regulate food labeling?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), operating under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, regulates the labeling for all foods other than meat and poultry. Meat and poultry products are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) under the Federal Meat Inspection Act.


What is "food labeling"?

Food labels for most of the food products sold in the United States must have the product name, the manufacturerís name and address, the amount of the product in the package and the product ingredients. The ingredients are listed in descending order, based on their weight. Under the current laws, fresh fruits, vegetables and meat are exempt from these labeling requirements.

In 1973 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) established "nutrition labeling" or guidelines for labeling the nutrient and caloric content of food products. Nutrition labeling is mandatory only for those foods that have nutrients added or make a nutritional claim. Manufacturers are encouraged, but not required, to provide nutrition labeling of other food products.

The current nutrition labeling regulations from the FDA require a label and have the percentage of the U.S. Recommended Daily Allowances (U.S. RDA). These standards are based on the 1968 edition of the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA), but the RDA and the U.S. RDA are not the same!

For each nutrient, the U.S. RDA are the highest RDA for any of the RDA age and sex groups. The U.S. RDA usually apply to people four years of age and older.

FDA nutrition labels must have the serving size; servings per container; calories per serving; grams of protein, carbohydrate and fat per serving; and the percent of the U.S. RDA for protein, five vitamins and two minerals.

There is less nutrition information on labels regulated by USDA. USDA labels list only the serving size; servings per container; calories per serving; and grams of protein, carbohydrate and fat per serving.


Why is food labeling important?

Food labeling provides basic information about the ingredients in, and the nutritional value of, food products so that consumers can make informed choices in the market place.


What are the trends in food labeling?

In the 1990 Food Marketing Institute (FMI) survey, over 70% of food shoppers identified taste, nutrition and product safety as being very important factors in making food purchases. In the same survey, 36% of shoppers reported they always read the ingredient and nutrition labels, and another 45% said they sometimes read nutrition labels.

The growing importance of the role of nutrition in promoting health and preventing disease, and consumer demand for clearer and easier to understand information, has led to the passage of the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) of 1990. The federal regulations, detailing the format and content of food labels, are now in effect.