Food companies differ on labeling 'added sugars'

by Jay Sjerven
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Nutrition label with Added Sugars highlighted
Such large companies as Mars and Nestle have come out in support of the proposal.

The Food and Drug Administration, having received extensive comments on its proposed revisions to the Nutrition Facts Panel, including the controversial additions of a Daily Reference Value (D.R.V.) and Per cent Daily Value (%D.V.) for “added sugars,” was beginning work on finalizing the changes. Most of the food industry voiced opposition to the “added sugar” proposals, but there were notable exceptions.

As background the F.D.A. in the March 3, 2014, Federal Register, published a proposed rule that would amend its labeling regulations for conventional foods and dietary supplements to provide updated nutrition information. The March 2014 proposed rule included for the first time requiring the labeling of “added sugars” as an indented entry, subset, under “sugars.”

In the July 27, 2015, Federal Register, the F.D.A. went further, issuing a supplemental proposed rule that would establish a D.R.V. of 10% of total energy intake from added sugars and require the declaration of a %D.V. for added sugars on the Nutrition Facts Panel.

“We explained that we were taking these actions based, in part, on the science underlying a new report released (in January 2015) by the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (D.G.A.C.),” the F.D.A. said. The comment period on the proposed supplemental rule expired on Oct. 23.

Among food companies supporting the F.D.A.’s proposed “added sugars” declaration on the Nutritional Facts Panel were confectionery giants Mars, Inc., McLean, Va., and Nestle S.A., Vevey, Switzerland.

Mars in a May 2015 statement noted the World Health Organization, the U.S. D.G.A.C., and the United Kingdom Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition were united in recommending people limit their intake of sugars added to food to no more than 10% of total energy/caloric intake.

“Mars supports this recommendation,” the company said. “One of the most important ways we can help is by giving consumers clear information about what’s in the products we manufacture so they can make informed dietary choices. To make it easier for people to track the amount of added sugars in their diet, Mars is declaring its full support for the U.S. government proposal to include an ‘added sugars’ declaration in the Nutrition Facts Panel on packaging.”

In a statement issued after the F.D.A. published its supplemental proposed rule in July, Nestle said, “Nestle supports the W.H.O. guideline that people should limit consumption of added sugars to no more than 10% of their daily calorie intake, and we are committed to helping consumers achieve this target. We support the F.D.A.’s proposal to establish a D.R.V. of 10% for total energy intake from added sugars, and to mandate the declaration of added sugars as a %D.V. on the Nutrition Facts Panel.”

Mars and Nestle were joined by several smaller food companies in support of the F.D.A. proposal to include added sugars on the Nutrition Facts Panel, but most food companies were aligned in opposition.

“General Mills, Inc. believes that F.D.A. has inappropriately applied scientific evidence and conclusions from the 2015 D.G.A.C. technical report as the basis for the proposed ‘added sugars’ D.R.V.,” General Mills said. “Consumer research consistently shows that the declaration of ‘added sugars’ decreases consumer understanding of total sugar content of a product.”

The American Beverage Association urged the F.D.A. to reconsider the proposal on added sugars. The association made several points. First, it asserted there is no chemical difference between added sugars and naturally occurring sugars and that added sugars are not uniquely or directly linked to a risk of chronic disease, health-related condition, or a physiological endpoint. Also, there is no analytical test that can distinguish between added and naturally occurring sugars. The beverage makers further asserted, “The lack of scientific basis for an added sugar declaration also raises concerns regarding whether such a declaration impinges on the First Amendment rights inherent in the U.S. Constitution.”

The American Bakers Association commented, “For bakers in particular, F.D.A.’s mandatory ‘added sugars’ and %D.V. requirements will essentially compel bakers to include false information on the label of products that undergo fermentation, in violation of the First Amendment. Given that under F.D.A.’s proposed supplemental rule, bakers will be required to intentionally falsely overstate the amount of %D.V. of ‘added sugars’ on yeast-leavened products, coupled with potential consumer confusion in choosing healthful products as a
result of these disclosures, the costs and burdens on bakers in complying with F.D.A.’s proposed mandatory ‘added sugars’ disclosures far outweigh any perceived benefits F.D.A. might have expected in finalizing these requirements.”

Reflecting the divide in the food industry on the F.D.A.’s proposals on added sugars, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, in its initial comments on the agency’s proposal to include “added sugars” on the Nutrition Facts Panel, submitted on Aug. 1, 2014, presented both a majority view (in opposition) and a minority view (in support) of its members.

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