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FDA to examine nutrition symbols

By Lorraine Heller , 23-Jul-2007

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is to examine the use of nutrition symbols on food products, and is calling for information on the usefulness of such symbols, the consistency of nutrition standards they are based on, and the cost involved in their use.

The regulatory agency is inviting comments in advance of a hearing due to take place on September 10 and 11, 2007.



The use of symbols on food labels has emerged in recent years as a way for manufacturers to promote the nutrient content of their products. Such marks or symbols aim to distinguish products by providing consumers with easily understandable nutrition information.



But according to FDA, although such marks aim to indicate that the food product bearing them is a healthful choice, each symbol program has different nutrient requirements.



"The selected nutrients and the nutrient levels required for eligibility vary among the different symbol programs in use. With the increasingly widespread availability of these symbols from manufacturers, retailers, and third party organizations, it is possible that eligible food products could bear multiple nutrition symbols," said the regulatory agency.



In a notice published in the Federal Register on Friday, FDA set out a number of issues for discussion in the forthcoming hearing, asking for scientific information in support of data submitted.



Questions posed by the agency include the product categories where such symbols are used, and the nutritional criteria included in existing symbol systems, as well as whether the symbols are presented in combination with front-of-package claims such as 'low fat' or 'good source of calcium'.



In addition, FDA asks if there are programs to educate consumers to understand the nutrition symbols, or if all information is contained in the symbols themselves.



The agency is also interested in consumer research conducted to help in the development of symbols, as well as consumer attitudes towards the symbols and attitudes towards products carrying the symbols compared to those that do not carry them.



Another area of examination is the extent to which the symbols are effective in promoting purchases, and whether their use has directly resulted in increased product or brand sales.



The economic impact of such systems is also due to be examined, including the cost of product development or reformulation, and the costs of putting the symbols on packages.



To view the full notice in the Federal Register, click here .

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