John Block Reports: FDA’s New Nutrition Label—Proposal to Demonize Sugar

OFW Law founding principal Richard L. Frank fills in for former USDA Secretary John R. Block on John Block Reports.

Several weeks [ago], the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued its first major proposal in 20 years to amend the Nutrition Facts panel. The anticipated price tag – a whopping 2 billion dollars. There are two major changes – highlight the number of calories per serving and include a new category – “Added Sugars” – to the label. 

While FDA is usually behind the science and slow to make necessary regulatory changes, in this instance, FDA appears to be way ahead of the science, acting without adequate scientific support. 

FDA and the public health community are disappointed that the Nutrition Facts label has not caused consumers to adjust their diets. The public’s intake of fat, calories, and sodium are considered still too high with diet-related diseases, including obesity, hypertension, and heart disease still a significant problem. FDA’s new proposal seeks to address these problems by highlighting the number of calories per serving and including “Added Sugar.” Industry is already voluntarily disclosing the number of calories on the front of the package. 

Originally, the Nutrition Facts label focused primarily on fat and saturated fat. The result – reduced fat products, many of which were not lower in calories and thus, no reduction in obesity. The new proposal seems to suggest that the dietary problem of the day is calories and “added sugars.” But, the FDA has no evidence to support the inclusion and highlighting of added sugars. FDA concedes that the science does not support any health difference between added and naturally occurring sugar, and FDA admitted that inadequate evidence exists to support a relationship between added sugar and obesity or heart disease. 

Nor has FDA even tested its proposed label with consumers to determine whether it would result in dietary changes. In fact, FDA just recently received approval to study consumer reaction to “added sugar” labeling after it issued its proposal to require it. 

The FDA proposal would also require food manufacturers to maintain extensive and costly records to substantiate the amount of “added” versus “naturally occurring” sugar in their products. This is because neither FDA nor current science is capable of testing a product to determine the amounts of added versus naturally occurring sugar. 

Industry has generally objected to the added sugar proposal, but with no checks and balances to oversee today’s FDA, it appears the agency is blindly moving forward. FDA should not impose an extremely expensive labeling and recordkeeping requirement without first conducting its own research. Let’s stop demonizing sugar!

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