FDA’s Public Comment Period Ends for Study on Nutrition Facts Footnotes and “Added Sugar” Labeling

On May 31, 2012, the FDA announced that it was seeking public comment on a potential “Experimental Study on Consumer Responses to Nutrition Facts Labels With Various Footnote Formats and Declaration of Amount of Added Sugars.”  The “footnote formats” generally relates to exploring “consumer responses to various food label formats for the footnote area of the Nutrition Facts label, including those that exhibit information such as various definitions for percent Daily Value, a succinct statement about daily caloric intake, and general guidelines for high and low nutrient levels.”

Groups supporting the study include the American Heart Association, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (“CSPI”), and the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University.  Their comments included the following:

  • American Heart Association:  “While ‘sugars’ is listed, the Nutrition Facts label does not distinguish between naturally occurring sugars such as those found in fruit or milk, which are associated with other important components inherent to foods such as vitamins and minerals, and added sugars, which are not.”
  • Rudd Center:  “The Rudd Center suggests testing more succinct statements for recommended caloric intake, including statements of calorie ranges and alternative types of statements indicating that calorie requirements change with age, height, and activity level, and statements suggesting consumers check their own caloric needs on a government run website.”  Further, “including added sugar and naturally occurring sugar on the Nutrition Facts Panel under total sugar would increase consumer understanding of products’ nutritional attributes and healthfulness. Consumers are used to seeing subcategories under total fat (i.e., saturated fat, trans fat), so this would be in line with current understanding and increase comprehension of the additional information.”
  • CSPI:  Besides supporting the proposed study, “CSPI urges FDA also to evaluate the effects of labels that show only added sugars and juice sugars.  While CSPI … supports the idea of a Nutrition Facts label that lists added sugars (and juice sugars) instead of total sugars and urges FDA to test such labels, at a minimum Nutrition Facts labels should distinguish between added sugars that consumers should limit (caloric sweeteners and juice sugars) and sugars that occur naturally in milk, fruit, or vegetables.”  Even if some sugars are chemically identical, “fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy foods may help prevent heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, and other diseases.  In contrast, soft drinks, fruit drinks, bakes sweet, candy, and other sources of added sugars … may increase the risk of disease, either by adding sugars to the diet or by displacing more nutritious foods from the diet.”  CSPI’s preferred Nutrition Facts label is set forth below.

Groups  opposing the study include the American Bakers Association, the Independent Bakers Association, the American Beverage Association, the International Dairy Foods Association, the National Dairy Council, the National Milk Producers Federation, the National Confectioners Association, Ocean Spray Cranberries and the Sugar Association.   Reasons provided  in opposition to the study included the following:

  • Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc.:  “Ocean Spray’s opposition is threefold: (1) we believe that the focus on added sugars, as opposed to total sugars, is misplaced, (2) the focus on added sugar disproportionally impacts cranberry products, which require sweetening to be palatable, and (3) the FDA lacks authority to require the declaration of added sugars as the FDA has no means of testing for enforcement of an added sugar declaration without requiring access to proprietary formulas.”
  • National Dairy Council:  “[C]urrent food labels provide information about the amount of total sugars on the Nutrition Facts label and the names of added sugars on the Ingredients Panel. Nutrient content claims, such as reduced sugar, sugar free or no added sugar, may also be present.  Consumer research to date indicates that consumer judgments about the nutritional attributes and overall healthfulness of foods and beverages can be impacted by information currently on foods labels. A review of the current research indicates potential for consumer confusion and unintended consequences from declaration of added sugars on the Nutrition Facts label.”
  • American Beverage Association:  “Although ABA supports FDA efforts to research the ways in which consumers use and understand the Nutrition Facts label, ABA continues to believe that the proposed study’s review of an added sugars declaration is wholly unnecessary and lacks practical utility for a variety of reasons.  First, FDA itself has repeatedly taken the science-based position that there is no need for a mandatory disclosure of added sugars since the body does not distinguish between added sugars and those naturally occurring in food.  FDA has also expressly acknowledged that an added sugars declaration would be ‘unenforceable’ since the agency would be unable to determine, for many products, the accuracy of any such label declarations. ….  Moreover, … it is well-established that added sugars are not uniquely linked to the problem of obesity [and a] misplaced focus on added sugars would only detract from the importance of total calories as the crucial piece of information necessary to inform consumers of the relationship between food intake and weight management.   Finally, … the proposed study contains a number of methodological and other flaws and may not produce reliable information on added sugars labeling.”

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