by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Labels

May 10 2018

FDA delays Nutrition Facts revisions 1.5 years

On May 4, the FDA gave food companies a gift when it announced a 1.5-year extension of compliance dates for the Nutrition Facts label.

We are taking this action because, after careful consideration, we have determined that additional time would help ensure that all manufacturers covered by the final rules have guidance from FDA to address, for example, certain technical questions we received after publication of the final rules, and that they have sufficient time to complete and print updated Nutrition Facts labels for their products before they are expected to be in compliance with the final rules.

On its website, the FDA now says:

The FDA extended the compliance dates for the Nutrition Facts and Supplement Facts label final rule and the Serving Size final rule, from July 26, 2018 to January 1, 2020, for manufacturers with $10 million or more in annual food sales. Manufacturers with less than $10 million in annual food sales would receive an extra year to comply – until January 1, 2021.

CSPI, understandably, is miffed:

The reality is that the labels are already on more than 29,000 products on grocery shelves, and more appear weekly.  So today’s announcement should be a call to action for companies to provide consumers the information they want now, rather than waiting for the legal deadline.

May 9 2018

USDA’s proposals for GMO labels

One picture is worth a thousand words.

Here is my favorite of USDA’s proposals for the front-of-package icon for GMO foods.

Translation: “be” means “bioengineered.”

Here are the options USDA proposes (thanks to FoodNavigator.com):

You can’t make this stuff up.

You have about 60 days to file comments.  By all means, do so.

Apr 11 2018

Will the new food label ever appear?

Remember way back when the FDA proposed updating the Nutrition Facts label?  It’s hard to keep track of the delays but the label, first proposed in 2016, is scheduled to appear in supermarkets near you by January 1. 2020 for manufacturers with $10 million or more in annual food sales and to January 1, 2021 for those below that amount.

In March, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb announced new guidances for perplexed food makers who still can’t figure out what they are supposed to say on labels.

The fiber guidance is particularly interesting.  FDA wants “dietary fiber” to have a proven health benefit, thereby excluding substances like chicory root, oat hulls, or other added plant components.

CSPI points out that the guidance is plenty clear enough, many food manufacturers are already using the new label, and the long delay is unnecessary.

I agree.  FDA: stop dilly-dallying on the food label.  The absurd delay makes it look like you are caving in to industry objectiosn.

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Apr 3 2018

FDA says public health matters, promises to consider nutrition issues

Last week, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb spoke at the National Food Policy Conference in Washington, DC where he announced FDA’s Nutrition Innovation Strategy.

His speech, Reducing the Burden of Chronic Disease, specifies five areas that FDA intends to consider (meaning, at best, proposing suggestions for public comment and going through FDA’s interminable rulemaking process):

  • Modernizing health claims
  • Modernizing ingredient labels
  • Modernizing standards of identity
  • Implementing the Nutrition Facts Label and Menu Labeling
  • Reducing sodium

The documents:

My immediate reactions: sounds good, but short on commitment.

I was impressed that Gottlieb focused on public health and prevention:

We can’t lose site of the public health basics – better diet, more exercise, and smoking prevention and cessation…The public health gains of such efforts would almost certainly dwarf any single medical innovation or intervention we could discover.

Yes!

I was particularly interested in two initiatives under consideration:

Front-of-package icon for “healthy”

This is to be based on a food-based definition that focuses on the healthful attributes of a food product—not, apparently, on its content of sugar, salt, or saturated fat.  Only healthful attributes?

This sounds like a highly pro-industry position, since research on front-of-package labeling is pretty clear that warning labels about unhealthful attributes (salt, sugar, saturated fat) are most effective in discouraging purchases of “ultraprocessed” foods.  The warning labels used in Chile, for example, are proving to be highly effective.

Gottlieb did not mention the the FDA-sponsored reports on front-of-package labeling performed by the Institute of Medicine early on in the Obama administration.  Those were serious attempts to develop an effective front-of-package labeling system that identified nutrients to be avoided.  The FDA seems to have forgotten about those reports.

Reduce sodium

This is the item that got the most attention.  Gottlieb said: “There remains no single more effective public health action related to nutrition than the reduction of sodium in the diet.”

OK, but if that’s true, how about ensuring that food companies gradually reduce sodium in their products, as was done in the UK.  No such luck.  Instead: “I’m committed to advancing the short‐term voluntary sodium targets” (my emphasis).

I suppose “voluntary” could work, but if sodium reduction isn’t across the board, companies will have little incentive to risk changing their formulas.

In short, Gottlieb’s words reflect modern public health thinking the good news) and it’s great that FDA is considering taking these actions (also good news).  Now, let’s see what the agency actually does.

 

Jan 16 2018

Front-of-package labels: Do they work?

The Hartman Group has a handy Infographic on the effects of front-of-package labels on purchasing patterns.  I haven’t seen this summarized so nicely anywhere else.

And here’s the whole thing.  It would make a great poster, no?

Too small to read?  Try this excerpt:

Oct 10 2017

FDA says love is not a food ingredient

Food regulation is no trivial matter.  Every word on a food label has a Federal Register notice and Code of Federal Regulation section behind it.

Consequently, I was amused to learn that the FDA was not amused when it found the word “love” in the ingredient list of granola from Nashoba Brook Bakery.  The FDA issued a warning letter with this presumably non-ironic statement:

Your Nashoba Granola label lists ingredient “Love”. Ingredients required to be declared on the label or labeling of food must be listed by their common or usual name [21 CFR 101.4(a)(1). “Love” is not a common or usual name of an ingredient, and is considered to be intervening material because it is not part of the common or usual name of the ingredient.

From its website, the bakery looks like it makes great stuff, but its owners must not be familiar with FDA’s byzantine regulatory requirements.  The warning letter also chided the bakery for a long list of food safety violations, among them:

  • Approximately five flies in the ready-to-eat cooling area and processing area of the facility, all near or on food.
  • One approximately 1″ long crawling insect underneath exposed ready-to-eat foods in the pastry area, including focaccia breads, 7-Grain rolls, and brioche rolls.
  • The mixing employee was wearing a blue plastic bracelet while working with raw dough. The bracelet came into repeated contact with raw dough and dough varieties.
  • A production employee wore a nose ring and earrings while handling and shaping raw dough.

I hope the bakery gets its regulatory and food safety act together right away.

Personally, I like a little love in my granola.

Sep 12 2017

How Big Food does politics in Washington

Big Food trade associations got a meeting at the White House to argue that the deadlines for implementing the new Nutrition Facts panel and GMO labeling need to be synchronized (translation: delayed as long as possible).

Here’s who came to the meeting with the White House Office of Management and Budget:

  • The Grocery Manufacturers Association
  • National Confectioners Association
  • Food Marketing Institute
  • International Dairy Foods Association
  • American Frozen Food Institute
  • SNAC International

We know about the meeting because the White House released a record of it.

The current compliance dates:

  • July 26, 2018 for implementing the Nutrition Facts Panel
  • July 29, 2018 for when the USDA is supposed to release rules for GMO labels, presumably starting the process of public comment and years before implementation

The meeting participants provided two handouts:

A reality check: go to your local supermarket.  Lots of food producers are already using the new Nutrition Facts Panel.

This is a consumer-unfriendly request.

We don’t need more delays.

Jun 12 2017

Food Navigator’s special edition on “clean” labels

This is one of Food Navigator’s collection of articles, videos, and podcasts on single topics, in this case “clean” labels, clearly a hot trend.

Special Edition: Where next for clean label?

How is the ‘clean-label’ trend evolving? Is it still about avoiding certain ‘artificial’ or ‘artificial-sounding’ ingredients, or is it now part of a broader conversation about GMOs, animal welfare, sustainability, and business ethics? What do consumers understand by ‘clean’ food? And how will they view innovations from monk fruit produced from microbes, to ‘meat’ and ‘milk’ made without raising animals?

To the casual observer, ‘cleaning up’ our food sounds like an eminently sensible thing to do. But where is the clean label trend going, and is ditching every ingredient you can’t pronounce really the key to fixing the ‘broken’ food system (as Panera implies in a recent ad) or improving the health of people and the planet? .. Read

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