Sugar industry, others may face front-of-pack labeling pressure
VAIL, Colo. — The upcoming White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health is likely to discuss whether food packages should contain front-of pack labels for certain ingredients including sugar, Courtney Gaine, the president and CEO of The Sugar Association, a trade group focused on nutrition issues, told the nation’s sugar growers at the American Sugar Alliance’s International Sweetener Symposium here on Tuesday.
Gaine said the pressure for front-of-pack labeling is growing stronger because both Canada and Mexico have put such labeling in practice. In the past, such labeling could have been considered a trade barrier but since the countries both to the north and south of the United States have it the lack of a label could be considered a trade barrier, she said.
On Thursday, the Center for Science in the Public Interest said it had filed a regulatory petition with the Food and Drug Administration “to use its authority to establish a simple, standardized, evidence-based, and mandatory front-of-package labeling system for all packaged foods sold in the United States.”
“Consumers should be able to tell at a glance if a food or beverage is high in added sugars, sodium and saturated fat,” CSPI said in a news release.
CSPI is joined by the Association of SNAP Nutrition Education Administrators and the Association of State Public Health Nutritionists in submitting the petition to FDA.
CSPI acknowledged that the food industry has piloted its own front-of-package labeling scheme in the U.S., known as Facts up Front, but said behavioral research shows that this system fails to influence consumers’ food choices.
“Shopping for healthy foods should be as easy as possible, and front-of-package nutrition labels have a proven track record for helping consumers make better choices,” said CSPI president Peter Lurie, who served as associate commissioner of the FDA during the Obama administration.
“Clearly, this is too important to be left to the food industry, whose own efforts in this area bear more resemblance to marketing than to nutrition education.”
CSPI explained, “Despite decades of public health efforts, people in the United States continue to have generally poor diet quality and high rates of diet-related chronic disease. Government survey data show that Americans are generally over-consuming calories, added sugars, sodium, and saturated fat, and are under-consuming fruits, vegetables and whole grains.”
“Current food labels create confusion and fail to provide important, useful information to consumers. “The FDA can and should take action to update our food labels, putting essential nutrition information front-and-center and giving people the tools they need to make healthier choices.” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., in the CSPI release.
Blumenthal and House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and others have sponsored legislation that would require the FDA to deliver front-of-package nutrition labeling to consumers.
DeLauro supports CSPI’s petition and is urging the FDA to get started on a rulemaking in response.
“Times have changed, our shopping habits have changed, and the food industry is always changing,” DeLauro said.
“It’s time food labeling caught up. Improvements are desperately needed. To help consumers select healthy products, my colleagues and I introduced the Food Labeling Modernization Act which would direct the secretary of Health and Human Services to establish a single, standard front-of-package nutrition labeling system in a timely manner for all food products with nutrition labels. Front-of-package labels are the future, and a welcome change that will better consumer knowledge of what is in the food they buy.”
CSPI concluded that dozens of countries have already implemented interpretive front-of-package nutrition labeling to supplement their previous nutrition labeling requirements. In 2016, Chile adopted a mandatory nutrient warning label policy requiring octagon-shaped symbols identifying products high in sugars, calories, saturated fat, and sodium. After the policy’s implementation, the South American nation’s sugar consumption plummeted by more than 10 percent, CSPI said.
Sens. Angus King, I-Maine, Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, Tina Smith, D-Minn., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, have introduced a bill to double USDA’s Market Access Program (MAP) and Foreign Market Development (FMD) Program funding.
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