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WASHINGTON - The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday said it was considering requiring food companies to list nutrition information in its entirety, rather than by serving size, on packaged-food labels to help address the U.S. obesity epidemic, Reuters reports.
The topic was discussed at a workshop called "Exploring the Link Between Weight Management and Food Labels and Packaging," which included consumer groups and industry representatives.
Consumer groups are asking for easy-to-read, detailed labels, but food manufacturers and others disagree.
Christine Taylor, director of the FDA's office of nutritional products, labeling and dietary supplements, said one likely change will be to make manufacturers spell out how many calories are in each package, instead of breaking it down into servings and making consumers do the math.
"Part of it, of course, is that packaging has gotten bigger," Taylor said in an interview with Reuters. She also said the FDA had failed to fully enforce its labeling requirements for the past 10 years.
Carol Tucker Foreman of the Consumer Federation of America complained that the current labels are hard to read. "Consumers shouldn't really have to have a degree in nutrition ... or get out a calculator ... or put on their reading glasses," she said.
Food manufacturers disagreed, maintaining that the labels contain plenty of information already. "We need to encourage consumers to look at the serving size and the calories," said Alison Kretser of the Grocery Manufacturers of America.
Some experts said simply changing labels may not affect the growing obesity crisis.
Brian Wansink, a professor of marketing and nutritional science at the University of Illinois, said consumers ignore labels.
The size of the package has a bigger influence, he said. "People who pour from larger containers eat more than those pouring from small," he said.
The FDA is also considering requiring restaurants, particularly chain restaurants with standardized portions and recipes, to more clearly label how many calories and fat are in each serving.
FDA staff said they plan to report on the food labeling issue to the commissioner, Dr. Mark McClellan, by February.