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Food Label Rules Changes Unlikely, Despite Industry Pressure

Even though there is pressure from within the food industry for modifications aimed at easing restrictions of health claims on food labels, the Food and Drug Administration doesn't appear to be in a mood to make many changes.

Such an attitude, however, could well result in a new war by the industry to reform the regulations, which have been in effect for less than a year. The National Food Processors Assn. petitioned FDA for several changes in late October. However, a spokesman for the agency replied, "We're quite happy with the regs the way they are." NFPA counters that the existing rules keep from consumers accurate information about the beneficial aspects of some food products. In all, NFPA proposes six specific amendments to the regulations governing health claims and nutrient content claims on food product packaging labels. For example, the association said, processors of whole milk are prohibited from pointing out the product's high calcium properties because it also is high in fat. The solution, NFPA suggested, would be to permit language noting high calcium content and its importance to strong bones, while requiring a disclaimer about fat. NFPA also objects to "the jelly bean rule," which prohibits manufacturers from promoting the nutritional qualities of foods that contain less than 10% of specific nutrients. That rule prevents as many as 20 varieties of fruits and vegetables from being labeled as healthful choices since they do not contain the required 10% of nutrients like Vitamin A. NFPA also believes the regulation is overly restrictive regarding limitations on the use of descriptive terms such as "excellent source" and "light". "These proposed amendments will more closely align FDA regulations with the dietary and educational goals of the NLEA [the Nutrition Labeling & Education Act] and with the public's increasing awareness of the role of nutrition in the prevention of disease," NFPA's Juanita Duggan said. If it becomes necessary to obtain a "political" solution via Congress, NFPA plans to align itself with the dietary supplements industry, which also will be seeking modifications in regulations governing the sale and marketing of those products.

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