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FDA delays revamped nutrition facts panel

Following pressure from the food and beverage industry, the US FDA has announced that it would indefinitely delay the rollout of new nutrition labels that were designed to help consumers better evaluate the contents of packaged foods.

Previously, the FDA had given companies until July 26, 2018, to comply, with smaller food makers getting an extra year. On Tuesday June 13, the FDA said it intended to give companies additional time to be in compliance. It did not provide a specific deadline. Spokeswoman Deborah Kotz said in an email that details will be released at a later date.

Big food lobbying groups have been pushing for months to delay the roll-out. Last month the FDA delayed by a year a rule requiring restaurants and retailers to display food calorie counts, extending the deadline for compliance from May 5, 2017 to May 7, 2018.

Many commentators see the move as the Trump administration’s latest delay of the Obama administration’s rules intended to improve food labeling and make foods healthier and safer.

The nutrition label redesign was finalized in May of 2016 and championed by Michelle Obama as part of nutrition reforms. The tweaks include: highlighting calorie content, per serving as well as per package; noting the amount of added sugars; and adding the amounts of vitamin D, calcium, iron, and potassium instead of just showing percentages of daily recommended values.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and other industry groups had asked for the deadline to be pushed to 2021, according to a letter sent earlier this year to Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who was appointed by President Donald Trump. The letter was obtained by the health advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

In a statement, the GMA said food and beverage companies want to help people make informed choices, but the “fast-approaching compliance deadline” was difficult to meet without final guidance from the FDA on certain details. For instance, the association noted that the FDA still needs to evaluate whether some commonly used ingredients in food products can continue to be counted as fibre on the new panel.

Jim O’Hara, director of health promotion policy for CSPI, said the delay will only cause confusion as some companies switch to the new label as planned, ahead of others.

“The longer you draw this out, the more confusing the marketplace becomes,” he said.

Candy maker Mars, for instance, said it is still planning to start rolling out the new nutrition facts panel on select products in coming months and be in full compliance by next year.

Spokesman Brad Figel noted that postponing the deadline for too long would result in there being two nutrition facts panels in the marketplace for an extended period of time. Still, he said he wasn’t surprised by the FDA’s decision.

“There’s just been a lot of pressure to extend the deadline,” Figel said.

Trump has pledged to cut FDA regulations across the board. Other regulations the FDA could revisit include the so-called tobacco “deeming” regulations which give the FDA the authority to regulate e-cigarettes.

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Source: Forbes, New York Times

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