F.D.A. reverses course on 'healthy' labeling

by Eric Schroeder
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Kind L.L.C. is once again free to use the term “healthy” on its packaging.

 

NEW YORK — Kind L.L.C. is once again free to use the term “healthy” on its packaging. The announcement comes a little more than a year after the New York-based maker of snack bars was told to stop using the term on its packaging by the Food and Drug Administration.

“At Kind, healthy has always been more than just a word on a label, so when we were asked to remove the term from our wrappers, it cut to the core of who we are,” said Daniel Lubetzky, founder and chief executive officer of Kind. “While we’re pleased the F.D.A. affirmed that Kind can put healthy back on our wrappers, just as we had it before, it doesn’t change what always has been and will remain our focus — to create delicious snacks made with wholesome ingredients.”

The labeling dispute initially came to the fore last spring, when the F.D.A. in a March 17, 2015, warning letter addressed to Kind told the company at least four of its Kind bars were in violation of labeling rules.

The F.D.A. in the May 10, 1994, issue of the Federal Register published a final rule on using “healthy” as a nutrient content claim in labeling. In regard to fat, the F.D.A. mandated that the term “healthy” only may be used as a nutrient content claim to describe foods, with the exception of fish and meat, that contain 3 grams or less of total fat per serving and 1 gram or less of saturated fat per serving. Fish and meat were required to have 5 grams or less of total fat per serving and 2 grams or less of saturated fat per serving.

Kind said it initially responded to the F.D.A.’s letter by removing the word “healthy” from the four wrappers, but the company maintained that its usage wasn’t a nutrient content claim and sought to learn more about the F.D.A.’s regulation.

Kind initially responded to the F.D.A.’s letter by removing the word 'healthy' from the four wrappers.

 

In examining the regulation, which was established more than two decades ago, Kind said it learned that it precludes foods generally considered to be good for you — like nuts, avocados and salmon — from being labeled as healthy. However, it allows items like fat-free chocolate pudding, some sugary cereals and low-fat toaster pastries to carry the healthy designation.

 “The current regulatory definition of healthy is inconsistent with federal guidelines and scientific research, as today we know it’s advisable to prioritize eating whole foods, including nuts, plants, whole grains and seafood,” said David L. Katz, M.D., director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, who has served as a nutrition adviser to Kind. “I applaud Kind for entering the policy conversation, their commitment to public health and their appropriate focus on food over nutrients. I applaud the F.D.A., as well, for acknowledging that sometimes companies get it right, while regulations, however well intended, can fall out of date.”

Kind helped move the conversation on labeling along in December 2015 when it filed a citizen petition. The petition urged the F.D.A. to update its requirements related to the term healthy to emphasize the importance of eating real foods and nutrient-dense ingredients as part of healthy eating patterns.

“While we’ve made strides toward positive change on the policy and consumer education fronts, our work remains far from done,” Mr. Lubetzky said. “A true success will come when the healthy standard is updated, empowering consumers to better identify the types of food recommended as part of a healthy diet.”

F.D.A.’s response to Kind included a closeout letter issued on April 20. The F.D.A. said some of Kind’s corrective actions included removing and amending certain nutrient content claims on product labels and labeling, as appropriate. As such, the F.D.A. concluded that Kind satisfactorily addressed the violations contained in the warning letter.

Following receipt of the closeout letter, the F.D.A. said Kind requested confirmation that it could use the phrase “healthy and tasty” only in text clearly presented as its corporate philosophy, where it isn’t represented as a nutrient content claim, and does not appear on the same display panel as nutrient content claims or nutrition information. The F.D.A. said it understood Kind’s position as wanting to use “healthy and tasty” as part of its corporate philosophy, as opposed to using “healthy” in the context of a nutrient content claim. Because the F.D.A. evaluates the label as a whole, the agency said it does not object to Kind’s use of the term in this manner.

“Consumers want to make informed food choices, and it is the F.D.A.’s responsibility to help them by ensuring labels provide accurate and reliable nutrition information,” the F.D.A. noted in a statement on its web site. “In light of evolving nutrition research, forthcoming Nutrition Facts labeling final rules, and a citizen petition, we believe now is an opportune time to reevaluate regulations concerning nutrient content claims, generally, including the term ‘healthy.’ We plan to solicit public comment on these issues in the near future.”
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READER COMMENTS (1)

By Gordon O'Neill 5/10/2016 3:41:03 PM
Bravo for Kind. Why does the FDA waste its time enforcing 20 year old regulations instead of updating them based on modern scientific data?