- The Food and Drug Administration will extend the compliance date for the updated Nutrition Facts panel by 18 months, according to a final rule published in the Federal Register on Friday. Manufacturers with at least $10 million in annual sales will need to have the new label by 2020, and smaller manufacturers will need to have it by 2021.
- The new rule also would make changes to what's on the label. These include removing the declaration of calories from fat, requiring grams per serving of added sugars and adding a daily value declaration for sugars. It also would require updating the vitamins and minerals that could be included on the label, making calorie information more prominent, and making formatting and reference value changes.
- According to the document, the FDA received about 50,000 comments on its proposed rule and deadlines. "After careful consideration, we have determined that extending the compliance dates by approximately 1.5 years, until January 1, 2020, or January 1, 2021 (depending on annual sales), would help ensure that all manufacturers covered by the final rules have time to use guidance from FDA to address, for example, certain technical questions we received after publication of the final rules. .... Additional time will also help to ensure that manufacturers have time to coordinate with various parties to complete and print updated Nutrition Facts labels for their products before they are expected to be in compliance with the final rulessition period during which consumers will see both the old and the new versions of the label in the marketplace."
The deadline extension that will be published in the Federal Register is exactly what the FDA proposed in October — and for which it received both praise and condemnation. What the Federal Register does is delineate exactly why this decision was made, as well as what the FDA’s plan is to educate consumers.
For any proposed federal regulation, 50,000 comments is a lot, so it makes sense for the agency to have broken down the explanation for the delay. The comments came from consumers, manufacturers, industry groups, consumer organizations, academia, health professionals and state and local government entities. This final rule is a good review of what is at stake with a big change. It also prevents the appearance that the delay was impacted by a preference for big business interests, or a dismissal of the concern of consumers groups or health officials.
The consumer’s right to know and the desire for transparency, as well as the manufacturer’s ability to make correct and sensible changes, figured large in the rulemaking. FDA notes that both the new and old versions of the Nutrition Facts label are required to display accurate information, and any label will help consumers make informed nutritional choices.
At the National Food Policy Conference in March, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb spoke to attendees about his agency’s nutritional priorities. Much of what he said was couched in the desire to provide more information to consumers. More than a fifth of American deaths in 2015 could be attributed to poor dietary factors, according to an American College of Cardiology statistic Gottlieb mentioned at the conference.
Education is key to helping consumers understand what they’re eating, Gottlieb said. The Federal Register indicates a new campaign will partner agencies under the Department of Health and Human Services, as well as health professionals, manufacturers, retailers and nonprofits interested in health education to inform the public.
“We are continuing a variety of activities, such as conducting and reporting on food labeling research,” the Federal Register says. “We plan to continue to build partnerships to develop, disseminate, and evaluate labeling education efforts that target specific groups, including low literacy consumers and sub-populations at high risk of nutrition-related chronic disease, in addition to the general public.”
The delay certainly isn’t keeping manufacturers from implementing the changes. According to a blog post last month from Label Insight, 29,089 products have the new label already.
Consumer groups took the tactic of encouraging manufacturers and members of the public to push forward with the new labels.
“Today’s announcement should be a call to action for companies to provide consumers the information they want now, rather than waiting for the legal deadline,” Center for Science in the Public Interest President Peter Lurie said in a statement.
Grocery Manufacturers of America President and CEO Pamela Bailey welcomed the action, which she said in a statement gives companies the time to execute updates in a way that will reduce consumer confusion and added cost.
“Food and beverage manufacturers are committed to giving consumers the information and tools they need to make informed choices and these updates to the Nutrition Facts Panel are an important part of that ongoing commitment,” Bailey said.