Three years after the federal government said it would overhaul Nutrition Facts labels for the first time in 20 years, a group of food industry executives and trade groups are asking the Food and Drug Administration to delay implementing those changes by three years.
The FDA unveiled the final proposed changes to those labels last May, which include an emphasis on calories in a big, bold number and changes to serving sizes.
The agency set a deadline for manufacturers of July 26, 2018, but now Big Food wants to push that date back to May 2021, according to a letter [PDF] obtained by the Center Science in the Public Interest.
The letter, addressed to new Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, is signed by executives from the Grocery Manufacturers Association and various other food industry trade and lobbying groups.
In the letter, the groups say they remain committed to implementing the new rules in order to provide customers with “clear information to help them make healthy choices,” but they think this can be accomplished with “far less complexity and cost.”
“FDA’s Regulatory Impact Analysis [PDF] found that the cost associated with a two-year compliance deadline could be as high as $4.6 billion and that could be reduced by nearly $2 billion with a calculated cost of a four-year compliance deadline as high as $2.8 billion,” the letter notes.
The groups claim that “additional time will avoid billions of dollars in wasteful spending on duplicative relabeling schemes,” and allow coordination with another planned label update for products that contain genetically modified ingredients.
President Trump’s nominee for FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb echoed that reasoning when he indicated during questioning yesterday before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee that he would be okay with delaying the Nutrition Facts revised label to concede with the GMO labeling rule.
Scott said he is “philosophically in favor of trying to make sure we do these things efficiently, not only because it imposes undue costs on manufacturers to constantly be updating their labels, but we also have to keep in mind it create confusion for consumers if the labels are constantly changing,” according to Food & Wine.
But CSPI sees another possible impetus for the delay: The revised Nutrition Facts label includes a line for added sugars, which it says could prove embarrassing for manufacturers of processed foods high in sugar.
“It is mind-boggling that the food industry is fighting transparency and consumer information even though that’s exactly what their customers want,” said CSPI president Michael F. Jacobson. “Not only is industry undermining the public’s health—it is undermining its own credibility.”
As for complaints about a lack of final guidance from the FDA, CSPI points out that the FDA has published draft materials and asked the industry to weigh in on them.
“In short, the food industry is seeking to delay giving consumers critical nutrition information for as long as possible,” Jacobson said.
Some companies are already using the new Nutrition Facts format, including Whole Foods, notes CSPI. Mars Inc. told Secretary Price that it could deploy the new labels by the July 2018 deadline, but only if the FDA issues final guidance. It’ll take another year to comply otherwise.