First Lady Michelle Obama took the wrappings off an anticipated, battle-tested Nutrition Facts label on Friday requiring that packaged goods manufacturers list the amount of added sugars in their products sold in the U.S. and list calories, servings per container and serving-size information in bigger type, among other changes, according to a Food and Drug Administration explanation.
Companies with more than $10 million in annual food sales must implement the new labels by July 26, 2018; others have an additional year.
“This is not about telling people what they should eat. It’s about making sure that they know what they’re eating,” write FDA commissioner Robert M. Califf and Susan Mayne, the FDA’s director of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, in a blog post about the final rules, which advocates such as Marion Nestle were relieved to see had not been diluted by industry lobbying efforts.
“It was the first significant redrawing of the nutrition information on food labels since the federal government started requiring them in the early 1990s. Those labels were based on eating habits and nutrition data from the 1970s and ’80s and before portion sizes expanded significantly,” writes Sabrina Tavernise in the New York Times.
“The label also reflects new or updated Daily Values (DVs), which are the reference amounts of nutrients to consume or not to exceed and the basis of the percent Daily Value (% DV) on the nutrition label. In addition to added sugars, new nutrients that must be declared include Vitamin D, which is important in bone development, and potassium, which is good for controlling blood pressure; both nutrients of which people aren’t getting enough,” the FDA’s Califf and Mayne write.
“The FDA proposed including ‘added sugar’ on the label last summer, and many food companies, such as General Mills, opposed it. The companies argued that from a health point of view, it doesn't matter whether sugar is added or is already present naturally in ingredients such as fruit,” reports NPR’s Dan Charles. “The existing labels already show the amount of total sugars in packaged food, and food manufacturers argued that this already tells consumers what they need to know.”
But on Friday, the Grocery Manufacturers Association “released a statement welcoming the FDA's revised food label and calling for a ‘robust consumer education effort,’ to help explain it,” Charles writes.
“It’s great news for consumers, who could use the labels to cut their risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes, and should spur food manufacturers to put less sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and other forms of refined sugars in the packaged foods you buy,” Center for Science in the Public Interest founder and president Michael F. Jacobson said in an email blast. The CSPI has spearheaded the effort to have added sugars listed.
Jacobson took the occasion to solicit $25 to help CSPI fight any attempt by the sugar lobby to derail the labeling by Congressional action or lawsuit. Indeed, Big Sugar was not pleased with the announcement.
“We are concerned that the ruling sets a dangerous precedent that is not grounded in science, and could actually deter us from our shared goal of a healthier America,” the Sugar Association says in a statement. It drew a parallel to the 1990s, when reducing fat was the rallying cry of health advocates.
“Rehashing the failed policies of the past by focusing on a single nutrient and not calories may once again prove unsuccessful in improving health outcomes and result in consumer confusion, ultimately undermining consumer trust and increasing consumer apathy, something we can ill afford as we search for meaningful solutions to the complex problem of obesity.”
Among the other industry organizations fighting the battle against the “added sugars” label were the American Bakers Association, American Beverage Association, American Frozen Foods Institute, Corn Refiners Association, International Dairy Foods Association and National Confectioners Association, reports Roberto A. Ferdman for the Washington Post.
“The change addresses some of the early arguments waged by the sugar industry, which argued that having a line that says ‘sugars’ and another that says ‘added sugars’ would be confusing, since it wouldn't make clear that the latter is part of the first. The FDA addressed that problem by changing ‘sugars’ to ‘total sugars’ and adding ‘includes’ to the ‘added sugars’ line.”
Ferdman also points out that the average American consumes more than 126 grams of sugar per day, which is “more than twice the average sugar intake of 54 countries observed by Euromonitor, including Canada and Britain.”
The U.S. also has the highest obesity rate in the developed world. That may be due to our increased intake of kale, chia seeds and kombucha, however, eh?