eating habits could improve the health of Americans and that food labeling could aid consumers in making wise dietary choices. The committee’s report, Nutrition Labeling: Issues and Directions for the 1990s, was issued in September 1990 (IOM, 1990). It recommended that FDA and FSIS adopt regulations to institute mandatory and uniform nutrition labeling for almost all packaged foods, and it made recommendations concerning various facets of nutrition labeling, including the content and presentation of information, in order to support findings and recommendations of The Surgeon General’s Report on Nutrition and Health (HHS, 1988) and the NRC’s report Diet and Health: Implications for Reducing Chronic Disease Risk (NRC, 1989a). It also recommended that FDA and USDA should define descriptors (e.g., “high,” “good source of”) for the content of nutrients such as fat, cholesterol, sodium, and micronutrients.
Congressional concerns about food labeling had been building for some time. Members of Congress were aware of consumer and industry interest in the subject and had responded by asking the General Accounting Office to investigate labeling issues and by introducing a variety of bills on the subject (Scarbrough, 1995). This culminated in November 1990 with passage of the NLEA,27 the most significant food labeling legislation in 50 years. The NLEA amended the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act28 to give FDA explicit authority to require nutrition labeling on most food packages and specified the nutrients to be listed in the nutrition label. It also required that nutrients be presented in the context of the daily diet; specified that serving sizes should represent “an amount customarily consumed and which is expressed in a common household measure that is appropriate to the food”; and provided for a voluntary nutrition labeling program for raw fruits, vegetables, and fish. It also required standard definitions to be developed that characterized the level of nutrients and required that FDA provide for approved health claims. The NLEA’s requirements for the content of the nutrition label were very similar to those in FDA’s 1990 proposal except that the NLEA included complex carbohydrates and sugars in the list of required nutrients. It also permitted the agency to add or delete nutrients based on a determination that such a change would “assist consumers in maintaining healthy dietary practices.” On November 27, 1991, FDA proposed 26 new food label regulations to implement the NLEA. These included a new proposal on nutrition labeling and the establishment of RDIs and DRVs29 and a proposal on serving sizes.30 General principles for nutrient content claims and the definition of terms for claims to be allowed were also proposed,31 as were general principles for health claims,32 followed by individual proposals pertaining to ten possible topic areas for health claims, such as dietary fiber and cancer, which were identified in the NLEA. While the format of the nutrition label was discussed in its November 27, 1991, proposal, FDA published a more detailed proposal for the format on July 20, 1992.33 The purpose of FDA’s proposals was threefold: to clear up confusion that had surrounded nutrition labeling for years, to help consumers choose healthier diets, and to give food companies an incentive to improve the nutritional qualities of their products (Kessler, 1995).
The NLEA pertains only to those labels of food products regulated by FDA, which has label authority over the majority of foods. However, meat and poultry product labels are under the authority of FSIS in the USDA, and alcoholic beverage product labels are under the authority of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau of the Department of the Treasury, formerly the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Leadership at USDA strongly supported the claim that consumers need help to adopt and adhere to healthy diets. For this reason and to provide consistent regulation for all foods, the decision was made to have FSIS coordinate efforts with FDA to implement the requirements of NLEA for meat and poultry product labels (McCutcheon, 1995). To accomplish this, FSIS first published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking to solicit comments to assist in developing regulations