FDA delay in defining 'dietary fiber' gives manufacturers a bellyache
- The new Nutrition Facts label will require products to include measurements of dietary fibers, but the Food and Drug Administration hasn't defined what counts as a dietary fiber yet. This delay is making manufacturers a bit antsy, according to FoodNavigator-USA.
- A long roster of food companies and suppliers of ingredients — including chicory root fiber, soluble corn fiber, acacia gum and other ingredients currently classified by the FDA as “isolated or synthetic fibers” — are in a state of limbo waiting on the agency to come out with a clear definition.
- One of the main concerns is that food makers may not have enough time to reformulate products or revise product labels as required by the new labeling law because they don’t know if they can count some current ingredients in grams of dietary fiber. They do have more time than initially anticipated; the compliance date for the updated Nutrition Facts label has been extended to Jan. 1, 2020 for large manufacturers, about a year and a half after the initial deadline of July 2018.
Under existing law, “fibers in foods could be labeled as dietary fiber without necessarily providing physiological effects that are beneficial to human health,” according to information on the FDA website.
Naturally occurring fibers, such as those found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, have already been determined to have physiological benefits, so accurately labeling products using these ingredients is not an issue. Additionally, seven non-digestible carbohydrates — beta-glucan soluble fiber, psyllium husk, cellulose, guar gum, pectin, locust bean gum and hydroxypropylmethylcellulose — also currently meet the existing dietary fiber guidelines..
The FDA is now considering broadening that definition by adding some 26 other types of fiber — including gum acacia, bamboo fiber, pea fiber, soluble corn fiber, soy fiber and xanthan gum. This would enable more products to feature a dietary fiber claim.
According to FoodNavigator, ADM complained to the FDA saying, “The agency has not responded to the many citizen petitions on dietary fiber, nor issues their updated Scientific Review, nor issued their final guidance, leaving manufacturers in the dark on whether the non-digestible carbohydrates they have been using in their products might still be considered dietary fibers.”
ADM said that the delay limits dietary fiber choices and has even resulted in the removal of dietary fibers in products for companies that want to proactively adopt the new Nutrition Facts guidelines ahead of the compliance deadline. This is a huge deal because Food Navigator reports that Grocery Manufacturers of America says one in four products is affected by the dietary fiber ruling.
The hold-up is largely because before a substance can be given the FDA’s nod, it must prove to have a “beneficial physiological effect to human health.” In lay terms, this means contributing to lower blood glucose and cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, improved bowel function, or increased mineral absorption in the intestinal tract. Many of these health conditions and ailments are just what consumers are trying to mitigate by eating healthier foods and those with functional benefits.
According to the International Food Information Council Foundation’s 2017 Food and Health Survey, almost all consumers — 96% — seek out health benefits from what they eat and drink, with the top benefits being weight loss, cardiovascular health, energy, and digestive health. However, the study found that only 45% of consumers could identify a single food or nutrient associated with those benefits. This only underscores the importance of a satisfactory ruling from the FDA that enables food makers to not only effectively use dietary fibers in their products, but also label items accordingly for the benefit of consumers.
And while there is more time to change the label, it makes sense for manufacturers to want to hurry. After all, more time to implement the label means that manufacturers have more time to see what resonates with consumers and test out new ideas and formulations. And the earlier the new label appears on a product, the more on board with the transparency trend it may seem to consumers.
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