FDA preps for upcoming label transition with industry advice on sugars, carbs

What’s in the Label?

In early March 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a few more details to the food and beverage industry about how to adapt to the first major revamp of nutrition labels in years. According to the FDA, the new enhanced labels provide necessary guidance for consumers in a nutrition landscape that has evolved significantly since the last meaningful changes to label regulations.

Guidances

One of the more high-profile changes for nutrition labels involves sugar listings – the new label distinguishes between added sugars and naturally occurring sugars. Based on these types of changes, the FDA is issuing updated draft guidance addressing new distinctions.

The FDA guidance uses sugar-based products including honey, maple syrup and cranberry-derived foods as examples of when disclosures are needed about added sugars, and it suggests how such disclosure can be given. Because maple syrup and honey are treated as added sugars, the FDA has added visual elements to labels on these products that redirect consumers to “contextual information” that makes it clear that the products are still natural.

In addition, the FDA issued final guidance on the evidence the FDA is looking for on nondigestible carbs and how to classify such carbs on the new labels. Previously, manufacturers were able to declare that products containing isolated or synthetic fiber were dietary fiber. However, the FDA’s new definition of dietary fiber allows only naturally occurring fibers in fruit, vegetables and whole grains “as well as seven other isolated or synthetic fibers that are well recognized by the scientific community for having physiological benefits” to be considered fiber. The FDA’s recent release stated that the agency is reviewing petitions for how to classify nondigestible carbs and would give clear guidance to such petitioners on how to meet the FDA’s standards.

Changes to more accurately reflect what people actually eat and drink were also made to label serving sizes for certain products in a final piece of guidance for manufacturers.

The Takeaway

To introduce the new label, the FDA is planning a big rollout and featuring an educational campaign that will reach out to consumers through “educational videos, social media campaigns and user-friendly websites.” The campaign is intended to help consumers grasp how their nutritional choices directly affect their health. But one watchdog group is urging more immediate action.

In October 2017, Dr. Peter Laurie, director and president of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), made statements criticizing the Trump administration for delaying the arrival of the new labels. They were originally mandated to be in use by July 2018, but the FDA issued a decision putting off new label adoption until 2020 for larger companies and 2021 for smaller players.

Following the latest FDA announcements, CSPI director Jim O’Hara argued that the new guidance minimized the need for a delayed rollout of the new labels. “A July 2019 compliance date for all companies for the updated Nutrition Facts label is both realistic and achievable,” O’Hara claims. “In fact, more than 15,000 of the upgraded labels are already on grocery store shelves.” However, based on the extension from the FDA for the adoption of the label requirements, it is uncertain whether companies will sufficiently adopt the new label requirements prior to the mandated commencement date.