Congress introduces comprehensive food labeling legislation with enormous potential to advance the nation's health

A nutrition label

Statement of CSPI President Dr. Peter G. Lurie

The Center for Science in the Public Interest strongly supports the Food Labeling Modernization Act (FLMA), introduced yesterday in both houses of Congress by Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), along with Representative Rosa DeLauro and Senators Ed Markey and Sheldon Whitehouse. This legislation will initiate a comprehensive overhaul to align often antiquated food labeling laws and regulations with the changing marketplace and the latest nutrition science.

Food labels can play an important role in promoting healthy eating and preventing chronic diseases. Yet today’s food labels do not provide the simple, straightforward information that consumers need to evaluate products and make healthy choices.

The FLMA’s signature initiative directs the Food and Drug Administration to establish a single, standard, front-of-package nutrition labeling system for all packaged food products regulated by the agency. Similar systems are already in use in dozens of other countries and help consumers select healthier foods. They have also been effective at prompting the food industry to decrease the levels of overconsumed nutrients like sugar, sodium, and saturated fat in processed foods.

The FLMA was previously introduced in 2018, and this version includes new language targeting emerging food marketing trends. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the trend toward buying groceries online. But outdated labeling laws do not require nutrition information to be available at the online point of sale. The FLMA updates labeling laws to require Nutrition Facts, ingredient, and allergen information to be displayed for online grocery items.

The updated version of the FLMA would allow for sodium reduction in the food supply by amending “standards of identity” which currently require minimum levels of salt in staples like bread and cheese. Use of salt substitutes like potassium chloride could lead to lower rates of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and blood pressure.

The bill also targets marketing practices that confuse and mislead consumers. It requires products bearing claims about healthy ingredients like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to list the amount per serving or percentages of these ingredients because companies often include trivial amounts of these and then highlight their presence. It addresses the misleading marketing of “toddler milks,” sugar-sweetened beverages marketed for toddlers that are not recommended by health experts for young children. It also creates clear and consistent standards for popular marketing terms like “natural,” and will provide important information to consumers, including caffeine content and gluten-containing grains.

The past year has laid bare how our nation’s ill health can make us more vulnerable to new threats, like the coronavirus. Many of the same conditions identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as risk factors for severe illness from COVID-19 can result, in part, from poor quality diets. It's time for the United States to take bold action to reduce the prevalence of diet-related diseases by passing the Food Labeling Modernization Act.