- Associated Press - Saturday, September 3, 2011

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Uncle Sam wants you to know more about what you’re eating.

The Food and Drug Administration wants to revise the nutrition facts label _ that breakdown of fats, salts, sugars and nutrients on packaging _ to give consumers more useful information and help fight the national obesity epidemic.

A proposal is in the works to change several parts of the label, including more accurate serving sizes, a greater emphasis on calories and a diminished role in the daily percent values for substances like fat, sodium and carbohydrates.

It’s the latest attempt to improve the way Americans view food and make choices about what they eat, and comes in the wake of major advances in nutrition regulations by the Obama administration.

Calorie counts are popping up on menus of chain restaurants across the country and the longstanding food pyramid was toppled this year by the U.S. government in favor of a plate that gives a picture of what a healthy daily diet looks like.

The struggle to redesign the labels on every box, can and carton has been in the works since 2003, and some of the changes could be proposed as soon as this year. FDA Deputy Commissioner Michael Taylor cautions not to expect a grand overhaul, but the revamped label does mark a shift to create a more useful nutritional snapshot of foods millions of Americans consume every day.

“There’s no question obesity is a central public health concern that the nutrition facts panel can play a role in. It’s obviously not a magic wand but it can be an informative tool,” said Taylor.

For two decades, the black and white label has offered a glance of nutritional information about what’s inside each package, including calories and grams of fats, cholesterol, protein and carbohydrates. Critics have complained it’s confusing and doesn’t offer a simpler way to make a choice about whether it’s good for them _ a judgment the industry wants to leave to consumers.

The proposed label is likely to produce several changes, said Taylor.

For starters, portion sizes should better reflect reality. The 2.5 servings listed on a 20-ounce soda bottle are typically slurped up by an individual in one sitting rather than split between a couple and their child. The same goes for a can of soup, where one serving is often listed as two-fifths of a can.

The FDA is also likely to find a way to emphasize calories, which many people rely on for weight control. Other items likely to disappear or change because they haven’t proven useful include calories from fat and the daily percent value numbers that show how much what an average diet should include.

Still, some wish the revisions would go further to list information about the amount of preservatives in a food and the degree of processing it has undergone. Health activists say such changes could help trim waistlines in America.

The food industry wouldn’t like to see many major changes. The current label is easily recognizable and adaptable to food packages of different sizes because it’s simple, said Regina Hildwine, director for science, policy, labeling and standards at the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

Hildwine says her Washington-based group, which represents 300 top food, beverage companies _ including Nestle, General Mills Inc., and Coca-Cola Co. _ has provided extensive feedback to the FDA in the run-up to their proposed rule.

“I personally talk with FDA on a regular basis to share views and get information and sometimes they call me,” said Hildwine.

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