FDA Nutrition Facts proposal aims to win Battle of the Bulge

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Aug. 20, 2014 - The federal government's iconic “Nutrition Facts Panel” on packaged foods is about to change in ways which could have significant impacts for the food and beverage industry and agriculture.

Overall, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposal to update the nutrition label promises to address “the link between diet and chronic diseases such as obesity and heart disease.” In one example of what's buried in the small print, FDA states that “we expect that some producers may reformulate their products to reduce added sugars” and “to provide additional items with healthier formulations.”

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For groups like the Corn Refiners Association, the dairy industry, the baking industry, and sugar beet and cranberry growers, the FDA's “reformulate” warning is a signal that adding an “Added Sugar” line to the nutrition label is likely to reduce consumer demand for products containing added sugars.

FDA argues that the importance of battling obesity justifies listing realistic serving sizes and alerting consumers to “Added Sugar” in food products - despite the fact that there is no scientific basis for differentiating between the sugars which occur naturally in most fruit and dairy products and the sugar or high fructose corn syrup added to sweeten tart products to improve palatability or added to soft drinks.

Pointing out that “Sucrose in food, whether added or naturally occurring, is indistinguishable,” Michigan Sugar Company President Mark Flegenheimer lists another objection to FDA's proposed new rules: “The proposed record keeping and follow-up audits are both cumbersome and costly while providing no benefit to consumers.” He concludes that, “This proposed rule, which is not justified scientifically, could cause great economic harm to our cooperative.”

One measure of the challenge facing the FDA in finalizing its label proposal is that the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) is sharply divided over FDA's plan to require an “added sugar” disclosure. GMA's comments include both GMA members' majority view opposing the requirement and the GMA minority view which maintains that “disclosure of added sugars in food will enhance consumers' ability to make healthful dietary choices.”

The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), representing “more than 85 percent of the milk, cultured products, cheese, ice cream, and frozen desserts produced and marketed in the United States,” rejects FDA's plan to require an “Added Sugar” disclosure, insisting “there is no scientific support for distinguishing between ‘added sugar' and ‘naturally occurring' sugars.”

The dairy group also warns that FDA's proposals to increase daily values for nutrients including calcium, vitamin D and potassium “have the potential to significantly change consumers' perception of the nutritional profiles of certain foods” - particularly if there is “no corresponding increase in the level of vitamin D fortification allowed in dairy foods.”

Launching the proposals in February, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg explained, “To remain relevant, the FDA's newly proposed Nutrition Facts label incorporates the latest in nutrition science as more has been learned about the connection between what we eat and the development of serious chronic diseases impacting millions of Americans.” FDA Deputy Commissioner Michael Taylor added that to help consumers “make better informed food choices that will support a healthy diet . . . the proposed label would drive attention to calories and serving sizes.”

But in response to an avalanche of more than 166,000 comments, FDA is keeping its options open by not commenting on whether it will consider changing its proposals or whether it will give industry more than the FDA's proposed two years to implement the label changes.

“Although the comment period has closed, comments are still being processed,” FDA official Kimberly Rawlings told Agri-Pulse. “FDA will review and consider all comments before a final rule is issued.”

According to FDA's analysis of potential costs and benefits of updating the Nutrition Facts labels on packaged foods, FDA's planned two-year phase-in would cost the food and beverage industry $2.3 billion to make label changes and reformulate products while generating net savings of  $18 to $29 billion over the next 20 years.

The changes are expected to affect 60,000 manufacturers and 741,134 UPC (Universal Product Code) labels. FDA expects savings to be “mostly due to improvements in the consumers' health and longevity” and result from “reduced medical expenditures and increased quality of life” as Americans improve their eating habits.

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