The Evolution of Nutrition Facts Labeling

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the nutrition facts panel is one of the most widely recognized graphics in the world. Food Dive recently published an article on the origins and evolution of nutrition facts labeling. Our post hopes to detail some of the key points from their report.

The History of the Nutrition Facts Label

FDA Historian, Suzanne Junod, told Food Dive that the nutrition panel has been appearing on food packages since 1994, but mandatory labeling dates back more than 100 years. Junod says,”The modern U.S. food-package label has evolved steadily throughout the 20th century, and its content and format are regularly revised to reflect and apply new knowledge in the fields of medical, nutritional and regulatory science.”

However, minimal changes have taken place within the past 20 years except for the addition of Trans Fat in 2006. If you looked back 100+ years ago, the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 established the FDA and was the first significant consumer protection law passed in the 20th century. The law intended to stop adultered and mislabeled products to improve consumer trust in the food and drug industries. Packaged foods started to grow at the turn of the 20th century as these goods were more convenient that bulk or boxed products.


From there, low-cost competitors jumped in to sell short-weight packaging meaning they put less food in packages and sold them for less. In 1913, Congress passed the first mandatory food labeling law with the Gould Net Weight Amendment. The amendment required all packaged foods to have the quantity of their contents marked on the package regarding weight, measure or numerical count.

The next significant change took place in 1938 in the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act which required all artificial flavoring, coloring, or chemical preservatives to be listed on the product label.

“We didn’t know that much about vitamins until the ’20s. A lot of them weren’t even discovered until then. And no one was really clear about the role they played in human nutrition,” Junod said. “But scientific studies began. That was pretty much when [the FDA] started getting into the nutrition business and taking a really hard scientific look at nutrients and what role they play in the diet.”
Suzanne Junod
FDA Historian

In 1940, the FDA accepted a standard for enriched flour that established the levels for enrichment with vitamins and minerals. The formula was adopted for white bread and later standardized for other food products. Nutrition facts labels would not change for decades.

Nutrition Labeling Activity From the 1970s to the 1990s

In 1973, the FDA published the first regulations that required nutrition labeling for foods. The foods included those with added nutrients for which a claim was made on the package or in advertising.

“Then in 1977, a Senate committee came out with a report called Dietary Goals for the United States. That was a landmark report. [It] said that Americans should be cutting down dramatically on sugar, salt, and saturated fat, and eating more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, and healthful foods”
Michael Jacobson
Sr. Scientist at CSPI

The Department of Agriculture, would soon after published the first Dietary Guidelines for American which agreed with Senate findings: eat more fruits and veggies, eat less salt and sugar.

Mandatory nutrition labeling and the first nutrition facts label were introduced in the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990. The FDA spent a lot of time developing the nutrition facts label with an outside branding firm to be flexible for scientific advances in nutrition.

Where the Nutrition Facts Label is Going…

The new nutrition facts label is undergoing its first significant overhaul in almost 20 years. In the new version, the FDA requires added sugars, essential nutrients like vitamin D, potassium, calcium, and iron. The label was initially set to be active in 2018 but has now been pushed back to 2020. Many believe they are trying to line this up with the Department of Agriculture’s Non-GMO labeling law. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out over the next few years.

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