Top Food and Drug Administration officials pledged Wednesday to work toward reducing diet-related diseases by taking steps that will give consumers more information on what they’re eating and pressure companies to reformulate products, actions that are key elements of the White House’s new national food strategy.
Speaking at the Consumer Federation of America’s annual food policy conference, FDA Commissioner Robert Califf said U.S. life expectancy has fallen five years behind that of other high-income countries and that diet is a factor in the decline.
“It's disturbing to say the least that in a nation as knowledgeable and wealthy as ours millions of Americans continue to suffer from diet-related disease and lack the basic nutrients for a healthy diet,” Califf said.
He said some in the food industry are misinforming consumers about the healthfulness of their products, likening the industry actions to the misinformation surrounding vaccines and tobacco products.
“Make no mistake, every American has the right to choose what they want to be healthy or not," but some companies are marketing unhealthy products "in a way that may be misleading to consumers,” he said.
As part of the White House’s national strategy for eliminating hunger and reducing diet-related diseases, the FDA intends to develop regulations for front-of-pack labeling and set new, longer-term targets for reducing sodium in foods.
The agency also has proposed new regulations for marketing foods as “healthy” that will link the labeling claim to foods that are recommended for consumption under the federal dietary guidelines.
Susan Mayne, who directs FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said food labeling “can empower consumers with information so that they can choose healthier foods. And I do believe that most consumers want this information, but we must make it understandable and easy to find.”
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She also made clear that labeling regulations are intended to push food companies to reformulate products to make them more healthful, noting that requiring manufacturers to disclose trans fats led them to eliminate them from products.
The national strategy also called for “assessing additional steps to reduce added sugar consumption, including potential voluntary targets” for cutting the sugar content of foods.
Mayne said FDA would be convening a public meeting to “consider what further needs to be done on added sugars.”
She didn’t rule out setting targets for reducing added sugars, but stressed that sugar content is easier than sodium for the industry to address, since food manufacturers can replace sugar with lower calorie sweeteners. She said food companies already have been reducing added sugars.
"We would like to hear from all of our stakeholders about the progress being made, what steps need to be taken next, and how we can bring those added sugars intakes down in our population to the target in the dietary guidelines, which is 10% of your daily calories,” Mayne said.
She told Agri-Pulse that FDA doesn't have a timetable for developing front-of-package labeling requirements. Some industry sectors, including sugar producers and the dairy industry, are opposed to mandating front-of-pack labeling.
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