by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Labels

May 1 2017

Government’s food regressions: FDA and USDA

It’s pretty depressing to watch what’s happening to the gains in food and nutrition policy so hard won in the last few years.

Nothing but bad news:

Menu labeling:  The FDA is submitting interim final rules, a tactic to delay implementation of menu labeling, which was supposed to start on May 5.  Why?  The National Association of Convenience Stores and the National Grocers Association filed a petition asking for the delay.   Pizza sellers have been lobbying like mad to avoid having to post calories.

Food labels (calories, added sugars): As the Washington Post puts it, the food industry is counting on the current administration to back off on anything that might help us all make better food choices.  At least 17 food industry groups have asked for a delay in the compliance date for new food labels—for three years.  Why?  They are a burden to industry.  The soon-to-be FDA Commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, said this about food labels:

As a general matter, I support providing clear, accurate, and understandable information to American consumers to help inform healthy dietary choices,” Gottlieb wrote, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post. “ … However, I am mindful of the unique challenges that developing and communicating such information can pose, particularly on small, independent businesses.”

Definition of dietary fiber: The American Bakers Association wants the FDA to take back its new, stricter definition of dietary fiber, (it excludes synthetic fiber) due to go into effect in July 2018.

School meals: The USDA says it is about to announce new school meal “flexibility” (translation: rollback of nutrition standards).

The score: Big business 4, public health 0

Happy May Day.

For further reading:

Addition: It gets worse.  Politico reports that the congressional spending bill:

Contains a rider blocking funds from being used to work on “any regulations applicable to food manufacturers for population-wide sodium reduction actions or to develop, issue, promote or advance final guidance applicable to food manufacturers for long term population-wide sodium reduction actions until the date on which a dietary reference intake report with respect to sodium is completed.”

Politico also points out that the previous draft of the appropriation bill merely encouraged FDA to delay its salt reduction proposal until the reference intake report is updated (this, by the way, will take years).

More documents:

Apr 11 2017

The rolling back of nutrition standards

Rolling back nutrition standards #1: Added Sugars

The new administration is hard at work undoing the gains of the last one.

In my post on the nominee for FDA Commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, I noted that he’d been saying nothing about food.  Now he is.

He told Congress this week that he’s open to “pushing back the Nutrition Facts label update deadline [of July 2018] to align it with USDA’s coming GMO labeling regulation.”

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has plenty say about this.  As it explains, the food industry wants the

deadline to be pushed back to align with the USDA’s coming GMO disclosure regulation — a measure that isn’t likely to kick in for a few years (at least)… Gottlieb suggested during the hearing that he may be open to aligning the deadlines…You want to try to consolidate the label changes when you’re making label changes as a matter of public health, he said, adding that requiring companies to update their labels repeatedly is costly.

But wait!  Doesn’t this sound just like what food company leaders said in March in a letter to HHS Secretary Tom Price?

On behalf of the food and beverage industry, we are writing to express our concern with the current compliance deadline of July 2018 for the Nutrition Facts and Serving Size (NFL) rules and to request extending the deadline to May 2021.

May 2021?  Let’s hope we all live that long.

Reminder: Everyone would be healthier eating less sugar.

Rolling back nutrition standards #2: School food

According to Politico, Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts wants the USDA to undo the school meal nutrition standards put in place by the Obama administration.  In a letter to the USDA Acting Deputy Secretary, Roberts said:

I urge you to act administratively and provide immediate relief from certain egregious aspects of the standards, particularly in regards to the rapidly approaching sodium limits and the dairy and whole grain requirements,..After providing immediate relief, I urge you to provide long-term flexibility and certainty for our schools, our food service directors, and other stakeholders.

Reminder: the school nutrition standards are working just fine.

Jan 26 2017

FDA to hold hearing on the meaning of “healthy” (on food package labels)

I just received this invitation:

Save The Date

FDA invites our Constituent Update subscribers to Save the Date for the

FDA Public Meeting on the Use of the Term “Healthy” in the Labeling of Human Food

Thursday, March 9, 2017 (8:30 AM5:30 PM)

Hilton Washington DC/Rockville Hotel

 1750 Rockville Pike

Rockville, Maryland 20852

This refers to FDA’s “public process to redefine the healthy” nutrient content claim for food labeling.”

This involved opening its proposals up for public comment, extending the comment period until April 26 this year., and holding this public meeting “to facilitate further dialogue on this topic.”

This all came about as a result of the KIND company’s petition to FDA to advertise its nut-grain-and chocolate bars as “healthy,” even though the nuts and chocolate have more fat than is allowed in the FDA’s current definition.  The FDA agreed that KIND could use the term.

The irony is that this enormous effort applies to processed food products.  OK, some are more processed than others, but eating whole, relatively unprocessed foods is what’s really healthy.

This is about how food companies can market products.  It is not about health.

FDA has produced these documents:

 

Jan 23 2017

Canada’s new food label: some interesting history

Last week I posted this about Canada’s new food label:

I received a note from a reader who sent an article from the Canada Gazette giving some of the background for these decisions.

The government did a cost-benefit analysis of the then-proposed label:

Costs were estimated based on the inclusion of all regulatory options that were presented during consultations (i.e. the U.S. approach for added sugar, mandatory inclusion of vitamin D in the NFt). Stakeholders indicated that the cost would be a maximum of $727.1 million and with the removal of outliers, $598 million. However, the decision to use a Daily Value approach for sugars instead of added sugars would significantly lower these costs…The coming-into-force period of 5 years was chosen to minimize the cost of implementing the proposed amendments.

How did the Daily Value get to be 100 grams per day, twice the U.S. Daily Value of 50 grams?  All it says is:

A DV of 100 g is being proposed for sugar, and the declaration of the % DV for sugar in the NFt would be mandated for all foods.

Food industry politics in action!

Jan 10 2017

FDA releases label rules for Added Sugars

Just in the nick of time, the FDA has released rules on labeling added sugars.  and re-adjusting serving sizes, documents aimed at helping food manufacturers prepare for the sweeping update to Nutrition Facts labels set for 2018.

The FDA also released draft guidance for complying with the rules.  Here is one example from this Q and A:

7. How should I calculate the amount of added sugars in a fruit juice blend containing the juices of multiple fruits that have not been reconstituted to 100 percent (full-strength)?

If the juice blend is reconstituted such that the sugar concentration is less than what would be expected in the same amount of the same type of single strength juice (e.g., less than 100% juice), the added sugar declaration would be zero. If the juice blend is reconstituted such that the sugar concentration is greater than what would be expected in the same amount of the same type of single strength juice, the amount of sugar that is in excess of what would be expected in the same amount of the same type of single strength juice must be declared as added sugars on the label.

A separate draft guidance explains changes in serving sizes that also go into effect.

When does all this happen?  The rules became final in May but they do not have to be implemented until July 26, 2018.  Businesses with annual food sales below $10 million get an additional year to comply.

The elephant in the room?  Will the new administration step in and repeal the whole thing?

The relevant documents

 

Dec 12 2016

Food-Navigator-USA’s special edition on food labeling and litigation

This is one of FoodNavigator-USA’s special edition collections of articles on similar themes, in this case food labeling and lawsuits over labeling issues.  These are a quick way to get up to speed on what’s happening from a food industry perspective .  FoodNavigator introduces this collection:

Food and beverage companies have faced a tsunami of false advertising lawsuits over the past five years. But how big of an issue is this for the industry, who has been targeted, and what strategies are working, both for plaintiffs and defendants in these cases? In this special edition, we also look into labeling issues and trends, from healthy, Paleo and grass-fed claims to NuTek’s potassium salt petition.

Oct 17 2016

The FDA’s new strategic plan: open for public comment

I am late getting to the FDA’s July announcement of the release of its work plan for the next ten years, Foods and Veterinary Medicine (FVM) Program’s Strategic Plan for fiscal years 2016-2025.

The FDA organized the plan under goals for:

  • Food safety
  • Nutrition
  • Animal health
  • Organizational excellence

The FDA based the plan on basic principles:

  1. Public health is the first priority
  2. Partnerships are the key to success
  3. Scientific expertise and research are the foundation
  4. The program is committed to operating openly and transparently

Comments can be submitted on the strategic plan at any time.  Instructions for how to do so are here.

One possibility is to ask for further details.  The plan does not say how the FDA will accomplish the objectives, how much it will cost to achieve them, or whether it has adequate funding for everything it does (hint: it doesn’t).

Some of what it wants to do is puzzling.  For example, one Nutrition objective is this:

2.1: Provide and support accurate and useful nutrition information and education so consumers can choose healthier diets consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and other evidence-based recommendations.

I assume this refers to Nutrition Facts labels and menu labels, but one of its sub-objectives is:

Strategy 2.1d: Promote collaboration with stakeholders, including industry, consumer, and public health groups, to enhance consumer nutrition education directed towards age and demographic groups with specific needs.

I wish the report said more about this.  Surely the FDA is not suggesting that the food industry take responsibility for nutrition education?  I hope not.

The documents:

 

Sep 28 2016

What does “healthy” mean (on food labels)?

As it promised in response to a petition from the KIND fruit-and-nut bar company (as I discussed in a previous post), the FDA is now asking for public comment on what “healthy” means on food package labels.

You might think that any food minimally processed from the plant, tree, animal, bird, or fish would qualify.

But “healthy” is a marketing term for processed food products (not foods).  

As Politico Morning Agriculture reminds us, things got complicated when KIND, which makes products from whole nuts, said its bars deserved to be called “healthy.”

In 2015, KIND received a warning letter from FDA arguing the company violated federal rules by using “healthy” on its packages. KIND then petitioned the agency, and, after an exchange about why the current definition is outdated, FDA decided to reverse course. For example, it requires that a food be low-fat to be labeled “healthy,” a standard that a nut-based bar doesn’t meet, while products like fat-free puddings do.

The FDA’s rules now say:

The term “healthy” and related terms (“health,” “healthful,” “healthfully,” “healthfulness,” “healthier,” “healthiest,” “healthily” and “healthiness”) may be used if the food meets the following requirements: 21 CFR 101.65(d)(2)

OK.  I know you can’t read this (you can look for it here). The point is that to qualify as “healthy,” a product has to be low in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol; relatively low in sodium; and contain at least 10% of the Daily Value per serving for vitamins A or C, calcium, iron, protein, or fiber (with some exceptions).  There are also rules for levels of nutrients added in fortification.

The FDA wants input on whether all of this makes sense in the light of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines and the KIND petition.

In its inimitable FDA-speak:

While FDA is considering how to redefine the term “healthy” as a nutrient content claim, food manufacturers can continue to use the term “healthy” on foods that meet the current regulatory definition. FDA is also issuing a guidance document stating that FDA does not intend to enforce the regulatory requirements for products that use the term if certain criteria described in the guidance document are met.

If I correctly understand the meaning of “does not intend to enforce the regulatory requirements,” the FDA, while waiting for your comments, will allow manufacturers to call products “healthy” as long as the products:

(1) Predominantly contain mono and polyunsaturated fats regardless of total fat content; or

(2) Contain at least ten percent of the Daily Value (DV) per serving of potassium or vitamin D.

In other words, if your food product is made with a low saturated fat oil and contains potassium or vitamin D, it is by definition “healthy.”

Correction, September 29: An FDA official wrote to say that I didn’t quite get this right.  

Actually, if a food exceeds the low fat requirement currently in our definition, we will not take any enforcement or compliance action as long as the food meets all of the other requirements in the definition, namely that it is low in saturated fat, cannot exceed the specified levels of cholesterol and sodium, and contains at least 10 percent of the daily value for beneficial nutrients.  

Second, we are not saying that foods must contain potassium or vitamin D to be labeled as “healthy.”  We are simply indicating that potassium and vitamin D can be substituted for the beneficial nutrients now listed in the current regulations, in line with the new Nutrition Facts label regulations.

My apologies to the FDA for misunderstanding the notice.

The FDA’s request is good news for KIND bars.

But it smacks of “nutritionism”—the use of these two single nutrients (as well as others on the short list of beneficial nutrients) as indicators of quality in processed food products (and don’t get me started on vitamin D, which is a hormone, not a vitamin, and best obtained by getting outside in the sun once in a while).

Understand: this effort is not about semantics; it is about marketing.

Would you like to weigh in on what you think qualifies a food as “healthy?”  Here’s how:

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