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Food Labeling: Toward National Uniformity
and local food laws and regulations that required their compliance. Industry maintained that national uniformity of both food safety and labeling requirements was a necessary component of reform to gain their support for passage of new labeling legislation. In the end, the legislation provided for national uniformity of food labeling, with an exemption for State food safety requirements.
On November 8, 1990, President Bush signed the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA). The new law was concerned specifically with FDA's food labeling authority, addressing issues similar to those already under review by the agency. The law required mandatory nutrition labeling on most packaged foods and voluntary nutrition information for produce and seafood; specified the nutrient content information that must appear on the label; provided for certain descriptive terms to be defined and claims to be allowed; established a petition mechanism for additional nutrient and health-related claims; required that consumer education be undertaken; provided for State enforcement of Federal requirements where the Federal government has not acted; revised certain requirements for ingredient listings and standards of identity; and specified the effective dates for implementation of various provisions of the Act.
In addition, and of central significance to this study, enactment of NLEA established for the first time specific statutory provisions for achieving national uniformity of labeling requirements for foods subject to the provisions of FDCA. The purpose of Congress in this action is reflected in the title of NLEA Section 6, "national uniform nutrition labeling." The Act preempted State and local statutes and regulations whose coverage overlapped with and were different from certain FDCA provisions. State or local requirements identical to FDCA provisions are not preempted. Implementation dates for preemption varied. Some State and local misbranding statutes (e.g., standards of identity, imitation labeling) were preempted upon passage of the Act; a second group of statutes (e.g., net weight, ingredient labeling) were to be preempted in 12 months. For a third category, which included requirements for labeling "of the type" required by six provisions of FDCA Section 403, the Act delayed preemption of State and local requirements and mandated FDA to undertake a study to determine whether there was adequate implementation of the Federal law (Appendix A). The provisions to be studied included Sections 403(b) [food sold under the name of another food], 403(d) [misleading container], 403(f) [prominence of required information], 403(h) [standards of quality and fill], 403(i)(1) [common or usual name], and 403(k) [labeling of artificial flavorings, colorings, or chemical preservatives]. A fourth group of statutes (e.g., nutrition labeling, label claims) was to be preempted on completion of FDA's rulemaking process.