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Will the Trump Administration Align Compliance Dates for Nutrition Facts Update, GMO Labeling?

Several food industry groups hope so.

The responsibility for implementing two major changes to food labeling requirements has fallen on the Trump Administration:

  • Nutrition Facts Panel – On May 27, 2016, FDA published a final rule that will overhaul the Nutrition Facts panel that we have become accustomed to on foods. In addition to some formatting changes, the new Nutrition Facts panel rule requires to disclosure of the level of added sugar included in food products and changes the methods for calculating dietary fiber.
  • GMO Labeling – On July 28, 2016, Congress passed the National Bioengineered Foods Disclosure Standard (Bioengineered Standard), which will require foods deemed “bioengineered” to bear disclosure labels. USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is responsible for promulgating regulations to implement the law.  AMS is required to publish a final rule to implement the law by July 29, 2018.

The updated Nutrition Facts panel was slated to go into effect on July 26, 2018.  USDA has not yet announced a compliance deadline for the Bioengineered Standard, but they are expected to provide food manufacturers 2 to 3 years to comply after the final rule is published.  Absent any changes to these deadlines, many food manufacturers would be required to implement two major changes to their labels in relatively rapid succession.  Due to the timing of the deadlines, it would be impossible for a food manufacturer to roll out one updated label that complies with both requirements.

This predicament has led a number of food industry stakeholders to call on FDA and USDA to work together to harmonize the compliance deadlines for the Nutrition Facts panel update and the Bioengineered Standard.  During his confirmation hearing, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb expressed support for the proposal to delay the Nutrition Facts panel update to harmonize the label changes with USDA’s Bioengineered Standard.

FDA has taken the first step to achieving a harmonized deadline.  On June 13, 2017, FDA announced an indefinite delay of the Nutrition Facts panel update, citing the need to provide industry guidance on the new panel and allow more time for compliance.  Although FDA’s announcement did not mention harmonizing the compliance deadline with the Bioengineered Standard, the agency has not set a new compliance date – meaning it has the option to align with USDA’s GMO labeling deadline.

Food industry groups have seized on this opportunity to reduce headaches and compliance costs by coupling the two labeling deadlines.  According to a report in Politico’s Morning Agriculture, several trade associations, including the Grocery Manufacturers Association, National Confectioners Association, Food Marketing Institute, International Dairy Foods Association, American Frozen Food Institute, and SNAC International met with the White House’s Office of Management and Budget in mid-August to pitch a harmonized deadline.

The Trump Administration has yet to announce whether it will harmonize the deadlines for the labeling overhauls.  Although consumer groups have protested the delay of the Nutrition Facts panel deadline, the smart money is on the Trump Administration working out a harmonized deadline.  It aligns with the Administration’s goal of reducing regulatory burdens where possible.