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David A. Kessler, M.D. - Food Marketing Institute Annual Convention

David A. Kessler, M.D.
Commissioner of Food and Drugs
1994 Editors' Briefing Program
Food Marketing Institute Annual Convention

Chicago, Illinois
May 3, 1994
Thank you, Carolyn.

The last time we were together, it was in a grocery store teaching consumers about the new label.

I'd like to begin with a word of thanks to Tim Hammonds and the Food Marketing Institute.

Tim, you have a superb sense of timing. Today is day two of our national campaign to inform consumers of the new nutrition label.

I am here to mark an important milestone in the public health of this nation.

Starting next Sunday, virtually all food products produced for sale will have to be labeled with nutritional information that lets consumers really know what's in the food they are eating.

I have joined you today to highlight the significance of that event, and to discuss a major, nationwide public awareness campaign for the new food label.

The new food label represents nothing less than an enormous public health opportunity, one that comes only rarely. Using the new label, Americans will be able to make truly informed choices about the food they eat.

My purpose today is simple: I want each of you to experience for yourselves what American shoppers will be seeing when they go to the grocery store.

I want you to see that the new food label really does work.

Most of you have already seen -- and reported on -- what the new label can do. You are already written stories about the new food label.

You're the folks who more than any other group are going to teach people to read the food label.

Over the past month I have been talking to a lot of people in supermarket aisles around the country. I have spoken to parents, children, retired people, people on restricted diets.

In these conversations, I have heard two things: the new food label is easy to use, and there is something in it for just about everybody.

First, there will be nutrition information on all processed foods.

Under the old system, a full forty percent of the nation's processed foods carried no nutrition labeling whatsoever. What that meant, of course, is that there was no way to know even the most basic information about the contents of the food.

Look at the representative "Nutrition Facts" panel displayed here on the easel.

The most important part of the new nutrition facts label -- which has larger type, with the important information highlighted -- is the "Percent Daily Value" column on the right hand side of the Nutrition Facts Panel.

How do we get people comfortable with the new label? It takes just a minute. Just look at this column first.

What "percent daily value" means is your percentage of daily consumption in one serving -- the percentage of your recommended intake for that nutrient for the day.

A simple rule. A simple tip.

If the percent daily value is five percent or less, the product low in that nutrient. If you look at "Total Fat," you see five percent, and you remember that rule. And you know that the product is low in total fat.

Saturated fat: "Zero percent," it's low in saturated fat. Sodium: 28 percent. That's high in sodium. No longer do you have to understand grams, or milligrams.

Before, you had to understand what 660 milligrams of sodium was. Was that high? was that low? Most people didn't understand milligrams or grams. Most people didn't want to carry around calculators. Most people weren't nutritionists.

Now you can look at sodium and see 28 percent,and you can remember that rule -- less than 5% is low -- you know that sodium is in fact high for that product.

Under the old system, you had to do a calculation. You had to know that there were 9 calories per gram of fat.

If you just remember that 5% is "low", you can read the new food label. Forget grams, forget milligrams, leave your pocket calculators at home.

Let's look back at the cheeseburger for a moment.

Look next to saturated fat in the "percent daily value" column. Each serving includes fifty-one percent of the saturated fat you should limit yourself to each day. If you eat two of these, you've maxed out for the day.

This shows what an enormously powerful tool the new food label can be.

In the past, 40 percent of products had no nutrition information. And even for those products that did have this information, it was often very difficult to read, and hard to understand. The typeface was small, and the information was in grams and milligrams and most people didn't understand.

Just look at these two boxes of animal crackers. Here's the old label. It's incredibly small. I mean it's tiny.

The new nutrition label is bold. It's large type. Take a look. See what you think. What do you think when you look at the two?

The difference is really night and day between the old label and the new one. It's not only the format that has been revolutionized. Starting next Sunday, all food labels will provide information based on uniform serving sizes.

In the past, it was up to manufacturers to set serving sizes. The same kind of products would have different serving sizes. And in some instances, serving size information was difficult to use.

Here's a bag of potato chips with the old label. The serving size said "one ounce." How many potato chips are in one ounce? Well, you'd have to pour it out. You'd have to weigh it.

It wasn't very useful to know that a serving size was one ounce of potato chips.

If you look at the new food label and you look at the serving size it says "twenty chips" is the serving size.

With the new label, you know what's in a serving. You know what the daily value numbers are based on. If you eat twenty chips, in fact those are the daily values. If you eat 40, of course you have to double it. What's important is that you don't have to know anything about ounces.

The new food label takes a minute to get used to. Who's never looked at a food label? Who's never looked at a food label in the past?

Just take out some of the pretzels in the shopping bag. Just look at the pretzels.

Remember the rule: five percent or less, it's low. So you look at total fat, percent daily value. It says "two percent."

Two percent of your daily value of fat is in one serving. Knowing the rule, two percent is low so the product is low in total fat.

What about saturated fat? What's the percent daily value? One percent. Is it low or is it high? It's lower than five percent, so it's low. So this product is low in total fat, and low in saturated fat.

What about sodium?

Twenty-nine percent of your daily value -- of you daily intake -- of sodium is in one serving. So this product is high in sodium.

Once you know to look at "Percent Daily Value" and remember that simple rule of five percent or less, you can read any food label in the store.

Let's make another comparison, two candy snacks.

Again, remember the rule.

Look at these chocolate kisses, and these chocolate rolls. Total fat in one serving of these chocolate kisses: 20 percent. One fifth of your fat for the day is in one serving.

What about saturated fat? Thirty-six percent.

What about this other product? Total fat: four percent. Saturated fat: three percent.

If you want to reduce your fat intake, it's clear which one to eat. You can make choices.

Salad dressing is the number one source of fat in the American woman's diet. Take a look at the salad dressing in your packages. We've set realistic serving sizes. Two tablespoons is now the serving size for salad dressing. Two tablespoons of salad dressing represents 22 percent of your total fat intake for the day. So nearly a quarter of your fat for the day is in one serving.

Of course, there are low-fat salad dressings that have less.

Now you know, by looking at the "Nutrition Facts" panel, how much total fat you're really consuming when you have one serving. Do you remember that it used to be said that USDA used to regulate the pepperoni pizza because it had meat on it? And FDA regulated the cheese pizza that didn't have meat in it?

And there were different sets of rules for nutrition labeling. Now there's one nutrition label. It's the same for both products.

The "Nutrition Facts" panel takes all the dietary guidance that has emerged over the past several years and consolidates it into a few square inches of information that consumers can use.

There's one other point that I'd like to make about the new label: gone are the days when manufacturers could set their own definitions for the words on the front of the label. They could set definitions as they saw fit.

Beginning Sunday, when the label says "low-fat" or "high- fiber," you can be confident that the phrase -- that those words -- mean something.

It's one thing to have a new food label on the package. Approximately 300 billion products will have the new food label each year.

Think of the enormous task of changing the food label.

Think of the enormous effort that industry has gone to, the FDA has gone to, that other groups have gone to, to make sure that consumers can get the information.

The food label is arriving on packages in the supermarket but it's very important to make sure that people know to look for it -- and know how to use the information.

It's very important for everyone in this room to understand what the new label can do -- and to join us in spreading the word.

To that end, yesterday we launched our public awareness campaign to highlight the importance of the new label and build upon the excellent educational efforts already underway.

Tim, let me take a moment, to say that we appreciate what the FMI has already done to promote the food label.

Let me add that we look forward to seeing what else FMI can do in the weeks and months ahead.

Let me just point to some of the highlights of this campaign:

  • Starting now, giant TV screens in at least ten major league baseball parks around the country will begin showing our public service announcements on the food label.
  • This week in New York City, the electronic "ticker" in Times Square will carry our slogan "The New Food Label -- Check It Out."

The slogan will also be in your mail box. For the next six to eight months, Post Office cancellations in Denver, San Francisco, Atlanta, Chicago, and the Washington, D.C., area will remind people of the new food label.

  • Throughout the year, all three Goodyear blimps will provide national aerial coverage of the new food label.
  • Television chef Graham Kerr will be using the new food label on his shows.
  • And you'll see the nutrition facts panel on tray liners at restaurants such as McDonalds.
  • Curious George, a well known character in kids' books, has even signed up for our campaign. Curious George, in association with KIDSNET, will be helping us educate children.

With food as with so much else, habits formed early in life tend to be lifelong habits.
Let me show you the public service announcements we've developed for television.

The first focuses on the importance of good nutrition in promoting good health.

We'll see the 30-second version.

[Show "Check It Out" PSA]

The second spot features Kirby Puckett of the Minnesota Twins, Roger Clemens of the Boston Red Sox -- with HHS' own Donna Shalala.

[Show "Baseball" PSA]

But this is only the beginning.

The spirit of the campaign seems to be catching on -- especially around Chicago. Since February,the Chicago Sun Times has been printing a variation of the "Nutrition Facts" panel with its food page recipes.

That's exactly the sort of result we've been hoping for. We want everyone to become familiar with the new label.

Another exemplary project has come to life in this area. The Chicago Nutrition Education Center, in the West Town neighborhood, offers low-income women a hands-on experience in smart shopping. It teaches them to read the label, to select a balanced diet, to plan healthy meals.

I encourage you to visit that Center and see first-hand how people are learning to use the new label.

Before I take questions, let me try to put the new label into perspective.

The food label being phased out over the next few weeks was adopted in 1973.

It was based on our knowledge of nutrition in the 1960's, a time when nutrition science was in its infancy. The world of nutrition is a very different place in 1994.

The new food label we are highlighting today draws upon the very latest data linking nutrition and health. It is a food label that we can live with -- that we can live healthfully with -- well into the next century. It's the NEW food label.

All of us at the FDA invite you to "Check It Out." And we are relying on you to bring the new label to life for your readers and your viewers.