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U.S. FDA proposes 1-1/2-year delay to nutrition label changes

Sept 29 (Reuters) - The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday proposed giving manufacturers an extra 1-1/2 years to comply with new nutrition label requirements on packaged foods.

The agency said it plans to extend the compliance date for big companies, defined as those with more than $10 million in annual sales, to Jan. 1, 2020, while smaller companies will have until Jan. 1, 2021 to comply.

The extension comes in response to complaints from food manufacturers who say they do not have enough time to implement the rule, which was finalized in May 2016 and is designed to help combat health problems associated with obesity.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association, the industry's lobbying group, said it welcomed the news.

"FDA's new compliance date will provide companies with the necessary time to execute these updates to the Nutrition Facts Panel in a manner that will reduce consumer confusion and costs in the marketplace," it said in a statement.

Critics said the delay will only add to confusion for consumers.

Dr. Peter Lurie, president of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said the FDA's decision to "cave in to food industry demands" harms public health and creates a confusing marketplace as many companies have already created new labels.

"The hollowness of the FDA's decision is underscored by the many updated labels that are already in grocery stores," he said in a statement.

The public will have 30 days to comment beginning on Oct. 2, after which the FDA will complete the rule. The agency said it would not penalize companies who do not comply by the current July 26, 2018 and July 26, 2019 dates.

The revised nutrition facts panel will make the calorie counts on packaged food and drinks more prominent, include the amount of added sugars and adjust serving sizes to more accurately reflect the amount Americans actually eat. (Reporting by Toni Clarke in Washington; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli)