Trump administration delays implementation of redesigned Nutrition Facts label

Dive Brief:

  • The Food and Drug Administration will delay implementation of the requirement for food manufacturers to use the revamped Nutrition Facts label, according to a section of the agency's website
  • The new label changes how information on several nutritional components is presented — including sugars, fiber and some vitamins — and was supposed to be required for manufacturers with annual sales of more than $10 million by June 26, 2018. The FDA's website doesn't provide a new compliance date. 
  • Many manufacturers raised concerns about the deadline for the new labels, especially given the pending labeling requirement for GMO ingredients. "After careful consideration, the FDA determined that additional time would provide manufacturers covered by the rule with necessary guidance from FDA, and would help them be able to complete and print updated nutrition facts panels for their products before they are expected to be in compliance," the website reads. "As a result, the FDA intends to extend the compliance dates to provide the additional time for implementation. The framework for the extension will be guided by the desire to give industry more time and decrease costs... The FDA will provide details of the extension through a Federal Register Notice at a later time."

Dive Insight:

Given the number of parties asking to delay the implementation of the new Nutrition Facts panel and FDA Administrator Scott Gottlieb’s willingness to listen to these concerns, this move is not unexpected. Industry groups and manufacturers have been asking for this delay since last year. A letter sent in March to Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price pushed for the extension, saying the two years the industry was initially given was inadequate considering the time, resources and complexity of the issue.

Another issue at play is the mandatory GMO labeling law, which the U.S. Agriculture Department is currently working on. USDA has until July 2018 to issue a final rule for the new required label claim —  which will include an on-package symbol, on-package text, or a smartphone-scannable digital code. Many have said that under the initial deadline for the Nutrition Facts label revamp, food companies would immediately need to redesign their labels a second time in order to include the GMO disclosure.

Consumer groups, on the other hand, have opposed moving the deadline. Last month, a coalition of scientists and groups, including the Center for Science in the Public Interest, sent a letter to Price and Gottlieb urging them to resist any calls to delay the new label. Consumers need the information on the new label to alert them to potential health issues in products, like high levels of added sugars, they said.

Reactions to the FDA’s decision on Tuesday were mixed.

“FDA’s common-sense decision will reduce consumer confusion and costs,” Pamela Bailey, president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, said in a written statement. “Food and beverage manufacturers are committed to giving consumers the information and tools they need to make informed choices, such as by updating the Nutrition Facts Panel. But the fast-approaching compliance deadline was virtually impossible to meet without the needed final guidance documents from FDA. FDA’s extension is both reasonable and practical.”

The Center for Science in the Public Interest was less optimistic.

“The FDA will end up denying consumers critical information they need to make healthy food choices in a timely manner and will throw the food industry into disarray,” Jim O’Hara, CSPI's health promotion policy director, said in a written statement.

Industry analyst Sean McBride said that considering everything that is pending in the world of food labeling, the delay is a good thing.

“FDA’s announcement paves the way for harmonization of Nutrition Facts Panel and GMO labeling changes that will reduce the cost and operating impact on companies,” he told Food Dive. “It also provides FDA with the time it needs to develop and launch its $3 million Congressionally-mandated GMO education campaign, and time the launch with the new GMO disclosure system. That is good news for industry, good news for consumers and good news for food prices.”

Several manufacturers have already started using the new label format. Nutrition bar manufacturer KIND, which has been working to spur modernization of food labeling issues, said Tuesday it will not be deterred by the delay.

“KIND believes it’s important to provide consumers with the information they need make the most informed food choices. That is why last year we began updating our labels with the new Nutrition Facts Panel and also published the added sugar content for all KIND snacks on our website,” Justin Mervis, the senior vice president and general counsel, said in a written statement. “We anticipate completing our label updates by Spring 2018 despite any delays to the compliance date for the Nutrition Facts Label Final Rules.”   

The wording on the FDA’s website, however, poses several unanswered questions. By announcing a delay — but not a date or amount of time by which implementation is delayed — is it likely that the new label will be indefinitely put on hold?

“That would be another example of the Trump administration shooting itself in the foot,” O’Hara told Food Dive.

Considering that both consumers and manufacturers want to see the new label on products, experts said that's unlikely. This delay, which will just impact the implementation date and does not impact what is on the label, doesn’t call for any changes to the rulemaking.

This extension is somewhat reminiscent of the late-breaking delay of the mandatory menu labeling law, which came days before all food service establishments would have been required to post calorie information. O’Hara said that order, which delays implementation for a year, created “a mess” in the foodservice industry where many companies had already taken the time and expense to create compliant menus.

The delay of the new Nutrition Facts panel takes pressure off of manufacturers to get the new labels ready, though it remains to be seen what the FDA will ask them to do next.

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Filed Under: Manufacturing Packaging / Labeling Policy
Top image credit: RL Food Testing Laboratory