US FDA Nutrition Facts label guidance prompts calls for earlier implementation date

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02 Mar 2018 --- The commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Dr. Scott Gottlieb, has issued new guidance on the proposed Nutrition Facts label to help food manufacturers to make the necessary changes by the upcoming compliance dates. In addition, Gottlieb unveiled plans to launch “a major educational campaign for consumers” regarding the revised labels. However, the Center of Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has noted that with the guidance, an earlier compliance date for all companies for the updated Nutrition Facts label is both “realistic and achievable.”

“The Nutrition Facts label hasn’t been meaningfully updated in decades, and so in transitioning to this new, more informative label, it is important that we provide careful guidance to food manufacturers and to consumers,” Gottlieb notes. 

The new Nutrition Facts label incorporates the latest evidence-based information on nutrients, such as added sugars, to provide consumers with more information regarding their food choices. Whereas, for example, the old label lists total grams of sugars, it didn’t distinguish between sugars that are naturally occurring in foods like fruits and vegetables and sugars that meet the definition of added sugars. 

The educational campaign will seek to help Americans use the new version of the Nutrition Facts label and interpret the overall nutritional content of products they find on supermarket shelves. 

The authority will use educational videos, social media campaigns and user-friendly websites to help consumers “discern the relationship between the dietary choices they make every day and the impact those choices can have on their own and their family’s health in reducing the risk of chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes, heart disease and a variety of cancers,” Gottlieb notes.

“We’re equally committed to providing industry the information they need to effectively implement the new version of the Nutrition Facts label in a timely fashion. Today we issued practical guidance that provides further clarity on several key elements, including fiber, added sugars and serving size declarations.”

The guidance further includes updates on non-digestible carbohydrates, fiber and serving size in relation to the label updates.

Last year, the US FDA proposed to extend the compliance date for the new version of the label to give industry more time to implement the new requirements. 

More specifically, it proposed extending the compliance date from July 2018 to January 1, 2020, for manufacturers with US$10 million or more in annual food sales and to January 1, 2021, for smaller manufacturers to give them enough time to produce the new labels and reformulate their products if necessary. A final rule will be issued this spring.

In response to the newly-issued guidance, CSPI Special Projects Director Jim O’Hara noted that the new guidance minimizes the need for a deadline extension.

“The FDA had proposed delaying the new label — with its line for added sugars, bolder presentation of calories, and more-realistic serving sizes — from July 2018 to January 2020 for large companies and from July 2019 to January 2021 for smaller companies. That proposed delay was premised on the agency’s own tardiness in providing the food industry with these guidance documents,” O’Hara says.

“With today’s release of the guidance, a July 2019 compliance date for all companies for the updated Nutrition Facts label is both realistic and achievable. In fact, more than 15,000 of the upgraded labels are already on grocery store shelves. […] Consumers deserve the updated labels sooner rather than later. Although we have concerns about some elements of the guidance documents released today, they are largely reasonable and scientifically sound,” he concludes.

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