FDA’s New Nutritional Label and the Not So Sweet Impact on Sugar

On May 27th, the FDA released its much anticipated new nutritional labeling requirements. This will be the first time the FDA has revamped its nutritional labeling requirements since they were first created under the Nutritional Labeling and Education Act of 1990.  The new label will make a number of big changes, but none got more attention than the inclusion of “added sugar” on the label. The F.D.A. defines “added sugar” as “sugars that are added during the processing of foods, or are packaged as such, and include sugars (free, mono-and disaccharides), syrups, naturally occurring sugars that are isolated from a whole food and concentrated so that sugar is the primary component (e.g. fruit juice concentrates), and other caloric sweeteners.” The F.D.A.’s inclusion of “added sugar” on the label is seen as a health win by some and a misleading and unhelpful piece of information by others.

Attempts by the government, both local and federal, to curb Americans consumption of sugar has been on the rise over the past few years. In 2013, Mayor Bloomberg attempted to ban sodas and other sugary drinks that were more than 16 oz., but the law received vehement backlash and was eventually overturned. However, Philadelphia last month passed a law that would tax soda at 1.5 cents an ounce. Unlike the New York law, which was seen as an overbearing paternalistic measure to control what citizens eat and drink, the Philadelphia law was framed as a revenue generating tax. So is the Philadelphia law and the new “added sugar” labeling mandate a changing of the tide? Will added sugar become a minimal part of the American diet?

According to some, including George Mason professor and food lawyer, Baylen Linnekin, the new F.D.A. label requirement is a “stinker” and won’t do anything to change sugar consumption in America. Linnekin finds the label of “added sugar” misleading because it “creates a deceptive health halo around products like orange juice and apple juice, which are high in naturally occurring sugar, but contain no added sugar.” He also states that indicating added sugar will not suddenly change the habits of those who eat sugar in unhealthy amounts.

Linnekin is not the only one making these arguments. For the past two years the sugar industry and many food manufacturers have been fighting the “added sugar” component of the new label. The American Baker’s Association, American Beverage Association, Corn Refiners Association, National Confectioners Association, were among the companies and associations that fought for two years to keep “added sugar” off the new labels. Campbell Soup, the parent company to Pepperidge Farm and V8, stated that the new “added sugar” would confuse consumers.  Manufacturers may fear that added sugar could soon go the way of trans fat and become a minuscule part of the American diet. Trans fat is now nearly eliminated from the American diet because of a coordinated effort between scientist, the American Heart Association, and the F.D.A. to make consumers aware of their intake of the dangerous fat. Even if sugar is headed in that direction, many in the healthcare field think that might not be such a bad thing, given the link between sugar and increasing cases of diabetes and obesity in America.

The outcome of the new nutritional label on companies and consumers alike probably will not be fully realized for some time, but the new labeling will certainly have an impact on both groups. It cannot be ignored that consumers are becoming more and more aware of what they eat, with increased attention to labeling of foods with GMOs and consumers going out of their way to eat organic. It also should not be ignored that this will have an impact on the American sugar industry, which is one of the largest in the world. Either way, it was clear that F.D.A. needed to update the nutritional labeling requirements. That realization came because Americans consume food differently than we did twenty-six years ago, sometimes in very detrimental ways, and our food labels should reflect those patterns and needs.

Companies will have until July 26th, 2018 to start complying with the new regulations.