by Marion Nestle
Feb 13 2013

Petition to FDA: it’s time to put “added sugars” on food labels

Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) held a press conference this morning to announce that 10 health departments, 20 health and consumer organizations, and 41 health professionals (including me) have signed a letter in support of its petition asking the FDA to:

  • Initiate a rule-making proceeding to ensure that the content of sucrose and HFCS in beverages is limited to safe levels consistent with authoritative recommendations. 
  • Revise the “Sugars” line on Nutrition Facts labels to address “added sugars.”
  • Set targets for lower levels of added sugars in other foods that provide significant amounts. 
  • Conduct a public education campaign to encourage consumers to consume less added sugars.
Why?  Check out CSPI’s infographic:  Sugar: Too Much of a Sweet Thing.
The petition also asks the FDA to work with the food industry to:
  • Limit the sale of oversized sugar-sweetened beverages in restaurants
  • Limit the sale of oversized sugar-sweetened beverages from vending machines
  • Develop means to reduce the use of added sugars.

Our letter of support begins:

The undersigned scientists and organizations are concerned about Americans’ excess consumption of added sugars…Every edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (going back to 1980) has recommended reducing consumption of added sugars, but Americans are consuming more added sugars (including sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, and other caloric sweeteners) now than they did in 1980. And that high level of consumption…is contributing to serious health problems.

If the situation with trans fats was any indication, the food industry will reduce the sugars in its products if it has to disclose them.

This is not the first time that CSPI has tried to get added sugars labeled (see petition from 1999).  I’m hoping the letter of support will encourage the FDA to take action this time.

Maybe it will even put sugars on front-of-package labels, as the Institute of Medicine suggested in 2011.

  • Mark Ohler

    We have CSPI to thank for pressuring restaurants 25 years ago to move away from traditional cooking fats like lard and butter to trans-fats, or alternatively, seed oils and vegetable oils. Now we find that today – oops – these seed/vegetable oils are pro-inflammatory. They more likely do harm than good, and are certainly not benign chemicals. Now the better evidence (real clinical trials, not observational studies) question why butter and lard were ever demonized.

    Not saying HFCS will ever be redeemed like traditional cooking fats. I’m reacting to your use of the word “authoritative recommendation”. Having come to study nutrition from a lifetime in engineering, I can’t think of nutrition and science in the same sentence. There’s precious little about nutrition that should ever be deemed scientific, and certainly not “authoritative”.

    By the way, CSPI is a political/vegetarian activist group. It’s not a scientific organization.

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  • I like the idea of separating out “Added Sugars” from “Sugars”. I think that would help people make better decisions when buying food.

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  • It should be noted that the CSPA’s petition is not on the grounds of “sugar is toxic” as per Lustig et al., but due the simple reason that all this added sugar adds quite a bit to daily energy consumption.

    Although I readily expect this fact to be twisted soon enough by that crowd.

  • Liti

    Labeling ‘added sugar’ is a great idea. But is recommending low fat milk a good idea? I’m not so sure.

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  • Mark – c’mon, that’s a little harsh, wouldn’t ya say? CSPI has done WAY more good than bad. I don’t agree with everything they say, but I think their message is to clean up the food supply and help promote healthier eating habits for the majority of Americans. Vegetable oils, and in particular olive oil, are supported by mountains of science. How can you suggest otherwise? I’m not saying I support cheap commodity oils like soybean, canola, corn, etc. It seems your philosophy is eating more whole, natural foods, which I fully support. But you’re missing the point here, which is according to clinical trials, sugar-sweetened foods and drinks are one of the biggest sources of weight gain, obesity, diabetes, etc. etc. in the Western Diet.

  • This is a great idea from CSPI! As a Nutritionist, I know my clients get very confused by the sugars category on food labels, especially when a food has some naturally-occurring sugar and some added sugar, such as in yogurt. Listing added sugar would be a great way to help people make good decisions based on the amount of added sugar. Thanks for this very helpful post!

  • I think that putting added sugars on food labels is a very thoughtful gesture. Consumers are always in the dark when they are reading labels that contain a lack of information. This would be very helpful for people who have a diabetic condition and need to watch their sugar levels.

  • Jasper Teal

    Artificially separating the sugar in food into “natural” vs “added” categories is senseless. How are “naturally occurring” sugars any better for your health? All sugars come from natural food sources, the only difference is how they are combined into a food product. Marion often says, puzzlingly, that “we don’t worry about fruit”. OK, what about fruit juice, which is more sugar-dense than cola? What about concentrated fruit juice? What about cookies sweetened with that, to avoid the “added sugar” label? What about fruits and vegetables bred over the last century to be much sweeter than before?

    Sugar is sugar, people need to eat less of it, and to do that right, we should count *all* the sugar in our diet. The “added” distinction is confusing and pointless.

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  • IuPG

    I should know and have a choice. Need I a better reason?

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