As I previously reported, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposed major changes to food labels in early 2014 in order to bring nutrition labels more in line with the reality of the modern American diet, and to bring awareness to what and how much we are actually consuming. Perhaps the most controversial change to the labels at the time was the one that would require food companies to list the amount of sugar that is manufactured and added to the product (as opposed to naturally-occurring sugar, from fruit for example).
Recently, the FDA expanded upon this change and again prompted controversy by proposing that nutrition labels on packaged foods cite the amount of added sugars they contain as a percentage of the recommended daily calorie intake. The agency said that it proposed the measure to help consumers meet their daily nutritional needs without exceeding the recommended daily caloric intake.
According to health officials, added sugar is a substantial contributor to the obesity epidemic in this country, along with obesity’s associated maladies such as diabetes and heart disease. However, given that added sugar is present in the majority of packaged food products, the food industry has argued against such label suggestions in the past.
It therefore came as no surprise when the agency’s supplemental proposal brought immediate criticism from manufacturers of foods and beverages. Several industry concerns claimed that the labels would confuse customers and that dietary limits on added sugars were not scientifically justified.
For example, officials at the Grocery Manufacturers Association, a trade group, criticized as inadequate the standards the agency used to establish a dietary value for added sugars. “Before FDA requires that a percent dietary value be declared for any nutrient, it must assure that the dietary value is based on intake levels evaluated through an independent, rigorous scientific process,” the organization said. The Sugar Association also weighed in against the proposed rule.
According to the FDA’s statement, the percent daily value would be based on the recommendation that the daily intake of calories from added sugars not exceed 10 percent of total calories. Because the FDA recommends a 2,000-calorie diet and there are 4 calories per gram of sugar, the agency’s recommended daily value for added sugars amounts to 50 grams for adults and children 4 years of age and older. For reference, 50 grams is equal to approximately 12 teaspoons of sugar.
“Scientific data shows that it is difficult to meet nutrient needs while staying within calorie requirements if you consume more than 10 percent of your total daily calories from added sugar,” Susan Mayne, the director of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said in her statement on Friday.
The FDA is also proposing to change the current footnote on the Nutrition Facts label to help consumers understand the percent daily value concept. The proposed statement on the label would be shorter than the current footnote to allow for more space on the label, stating: “*The percent daily value (%DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.”
The FDA is seeking public comment on the proposal for 75 days and continues to review comments received on the 2014 proposed rule. The agency will consider comments on both the original and the supplemental proposal before issuing a final rule.