By Nancy Glick, Director of Food and Nutrition Policy
With the enactment of the American Rescue Plan, the new Biden Administration will bring about important changes to overcome one of the most urgent problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic: millions of Americans are facing hunger in the U.S. and many of them are children. According to the latest Household Pulse Survey from the Census Bureau, over 25 million people do not have enough food to eat some of the time or often.
Yet, this is just one of the food-related challenges encountered during the pandemic. About 110,000 restaurants have closed permanently, retail food prices went up an average of 3.4 percent in 2020, and the amount of food waste, estimated at between 30-40 percent of the food supply before the pandemic, has grown exponentially. Additionally, and unrelated to the pandemic, the recently released 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans underscores an explosion of obesity and diet-related diseases in America. Some disturbing findings are that 6 in 10 adults have one or more diet-related chronic diseases and seven percent of children and teens have been diagnosed with high blood cholesterol levels.
All these problems affect the lives of all Americans, which is why the National Consumers League (NCL) will intensify our education and advocacy in 2021 to advance healthier eating, improve food safety, reduce food insecurity, and address food waste.
We focus our efforts on where we can have the most impact, taking action to:
1. Elevate portion control and balance as a consumer issue
NCL will advance the Dietary Guidelines’ recommendation to achieve a healthy balance of food choices by emphasizing the importance of portion control and ensure consumers know the recommended daily intake of calories is 2,000 per day. We also want to encourage greater use of “My Plate,” a plan developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to help consumers personalize their portions for various food groups—what and how much to eat, based on one’s age, sex, height, weight, and physical activity level.
2. Reduce excess sodium in the diet
NCL is greatly concerned that Americans on average consume 50 percent more sodium per day than recommended by the Dietary Guidelines. Because this increases the risk for hypertension, heart disease and heart attacks, and stroke, we will advance the goal set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to lower sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day and encourage consumers to flavor foods with herbs and spices instead of salt, and use the Nutrition Facts label to choose products with less sodium, reduced sodium or no salt (sodium) added.
3. Improve the labeling of alternative sweeteners
NCL applauds FDA’s decision to include “Added Sugars” on the recently updated Nutrition Facts label but we remain concerned about how novel sweeteners are labeled. Therefore, NCL is supporting a Citizen’s Petition to FDA to ensure transparent labeling of substitute sweeteners and has joined with other consumer groups in urging FDA to stop misleading claims, such as “No Added Sugars,” “Zero Sugar,” and “Reduced Sugars.” These claims imply the new product is healthier than the original, without disclosing that the sugar reduction resulted from reformulating with artificial substances and sugar alcohols.
4. Make alcohol facts labeling mandatory
Since 2003, NCL and 75 other consumer, public health, medical and nutrition organizations have pressed the federal agency that regulates alcoholic beverages—the Treasury Department’s Bureau of Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade (TTB)—to issue rules requiring an easy-to-read, standardized “Alcohol Facts” label on all beer, wine, and distilled spirits products. Currently, TTB has opted for voluntary labeling and the result is that many products remain unlabeled or carry incomplete labeling information. We are not giving up! In 2021, NCL will step up the fight to ensure complete labeling information on alcoholic beverages.
5. Require labeling of caffeine content
FDA considers 400 mg of caffeine per day as the amount not generally associated with dangerous side effects. An 8-ounce cup of coffee has about 95 mg of caffeine, a 12 ounce can of Coca-Cola has 34 mg, high caffeine drinks may have 160 mg for 16-ounces. The FDA only requires food labels to disclose that there is added caffeine in the food or beverage. This makes it hard for consumers to stay within the recommended limit because they don’t know how much caffeine is in the foods and beverages they consume. For this reason, NCL strongly believes that all products containing caffeine should be required to list the amount of caffeine per serving and per container and we will push for that requirement.
- Modernize food standards of identity
“Standards of identity” establish recipes for what a food product must contain, how it must be proportioned, and sometimes how it must be manufactured. However, many food standards are now 75 and even 80 years old and out of date. This is why NCL supports FDA’s action plan to modernize food standards of identity, but we are also calling attention to several food products—such as olive oil, Greek yogurt, and canned tuna—where issuing new or updated standards of identity are needed now.
7. Revise the definition of the term “healthy” and front of pack food labeling symbols
Currently, a food can be labeled “healthy” if the amount customarily consumed is low in fat, low in saturated fat, contains less than 480 mg of sodium, has a limited cholesterol, a significant amount of fiber, and at least 2 additional beneficial nutrients such as vitamins A, C, D, calcium, iron, protein or potassium. This will change because FDA recently modified how low fat will be calculated. While NCL supports this step, we will press FDA to address if and how added sugar content is calculated and will encourage FDA to adopt a “Traffic Light” labeling system to depict “healthy” on the front of the package.
8. Strengthen the food safety system
NCL will work individually and as a member of the Safe Food Coalition to make improvements in the nation’s food safety system. Priorities include finalizing FDA’s Food Traceability Proposed Rule, which would establish a standardized approach to traceability recordkeeping; expanding pathogen testing in meat and poultry products; and updating safe handling instructions labels for these products.
9. Reduce the amount of food waste
Every year, about 90 billion pounds of food goes uneaten in the US, with huge environmental and food insecurity consequences. To change this food waste crisis, NCL will raise awareness of food loss and waste and inform consumers about how they can reduce food waste in their homes and when they go out to eat.
10. Increase funding and access to federal nutrition programs
NCL will work to make permanent the 15 percent Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits increase now included in the American Relief Plan, while also pressing for additional funding for the National School Lunch and Breakfast Program.
Conclusion: Advancing a policy agenda that ensures transparent food labeling, improves the safety and quality of the foods people eat, reduces food insecurity, and addresses food waste is essential to improving American’s lives. The stakes are high and NCL is committed to making a difference for consumers
 U.S. Census Bureau. Household Pulse Survey. May 20, 2020
 National Restaurant Association. COVID-19 Restaurant Impact Survey V. December 2, 2020
 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Consumer Price Index Summary. March 10, 2021
 Food and Drug Administration. Food Loss and Waste. February 23, 2021
 The National Confectioners Association “Always a Treat” consumer education campaign is one example of how portion control can be easily utilized to control calorie consumption and achieve the dietary patterns recommended in the Dietary Guidelines. As part of this campaign, leading chocolate and candy companies have pledged that half of their individually wrapped products will be available in sizes that contain 200 calories or less per pack.