Pressures to review “unrealistic” and “misleading” serve sizes in the US and Australia

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 5th August 2011

The Centre for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a US-based nonprofit consumer group, has urged the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to revise its current serve-size mandatory regulations.  The FDA’s serving size regulations were based on data collected in the 1970s, and the FDA is currently reviewing serving sizes in a broader revision of food labels. In a recent letter to the FDA, the CSPI claimed that US food manufacturers are understating the calories, sodium and saturated fat content of their products, because current serving sizes set by the FDA are lower than actual consumer consumption. For example, according to the CSPI, labels for canned soup products such as Campbell’s Chunky Classic Chicken Noodle Soup indicate that a serve is one cup. This constitutes less than half a can of soup and contains 790 milligrams of sodium – half the recommended daily intake of sodium for most adults.  However, a CSPI-commissioned survey in the US found that 64% of consumers would eat the entire can of soup in one go, consuming the total 1,840 mg of sodium contained in a can. This alone would exceed the recommended daily intake of sodium for adults.  In relation to ice cream, the serving size for ice cream in the US is a half-cup. However, CSPI said that this does not reflect consumption patterns for ice cream, as most consumers would eat one whole cup of ice cream would actually be consumer their full day’s worth of recommended intake for saturated fat. According to CSPI, a tiny serving size for powdered coffee creamer, set at one teaspoon, also allows some coffee creamer products to market themselves as “Fat Free”. However, most consumers were found to use several teaspoons in one drink.  The CSPI claims that small serving sizes are “unrealistic” and “misleading”, because they lead consumers to believe that they’re consuming very little calories or fat intake per serving when in fact, their actual consumption can be much higher.   Australia reluctant to mandate serve sizes Serving sizes in Australia are also currently under review as a part of the Australian Government’s expected response to the labelling recommendations of the Government-appointed Blewett Review of Food Labelling Law and Policy. The Blewett Review panel released its report in February 2011.  In Australia and New Zealand, serving sizes are also determined by manufacturers. The Blewett Review Panel considered the US model of FDA mandated serving sizes. Blewett reported there was little indication that declarations of amounts of nutrients per standard serving size were helpful.  The Blewett Review Panel Report suggested a simpler approach, merely to declare nutrients per 100 gm/100 ml, while retaining the general statement on serving size.  Blewett recommended that the declaration in the Nutrition Information Panel of amount of nutrients per serve be no longer mandatory unless a daily intake claim has been made. 

The matter is also the subject of consideration by the Food and Health Dialogue which is a forum established by the Australian Government with food industry and health bodies to assist the Government in the development of food and nutrition policy and regulatory issues.