- 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 from the initial deadline of July 26, 2018 — according to a constituent update from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Manufacturers with annual sales less than $10 million will have until Jan. 1, 2021. The agency will accept comments on the new deadline for 30 days.
- In June, the FDA announced it was extending the compliance dates in response to concerns from several manufacturers and trade associations about making a mandated change on all labels before the soon to-be-designed mandatory GMO ingredient labeling needs to be done. There also is some nutritional information that still needs to be clarified. The initial delay announcement did not include compliance deadlines.
- "The FDA is committed to making sure that consumers have the facts they need to make informed decisions about their diet and the foods they feed their families," Friday's constituent announcement says. "The proposed rule only addresses the compliance dates. The FDA is not proposing any other changes to the Nutrition Facts Label and Serving Size final rules."
Many in the food and beverage industry hailed the delay of the new label, saying it gave them the opportunity to make one big change instead of two. While there is no compliance deadline set for the new label that requires manufacturers to disclose genetically modified ingredients, the federal law mandating it indicates the U.S. Department of Agriculture issue a final rule for the new label claim — which will include an on-package symbol, on-package text, or a smartphone-scannable digital code — by July 2018.
However, some were leery the delay of the labeling revamp was announced with no new deadline. The Trump administration has been averse to placing new regulations on businesses. The updated label also was championed by former First Lady Michelle Obama, which immediately places it in a category of pending changes that could find themselves on Trump’s chopping block.
This new deadline, while still open to comment, shows the label changes are still on the table. Industry leaders say an 18-month delay makes sense. Pamela Bailey, president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, called the 2020 deadline a “common-sense extension.”
“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 in a statement. “FDA’s new compliance date will provide companies with the necessary time to execute these updates to the Nutrition Facts Panel in a manner that will reduce consumer confusion and costs in the marketplace.”
Everyone was not so optimistic. The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer group that has stood against any delay to the requirement, put out a statement from President Dr. Peter Lurie on Friday calling the deadline “hollow.” Especially troubling, Lurie said, is the fact that manufacturers who have less than $10 million in annual sales -- which accounts for 90% of the food industry -- have until Jan. 1, 2021 to comply.
“The Food and Drug Administration’s decision to cave in to food industry demands and delay the deadline for companies to update their Nutrition Facts labels harms the public’s health, denies consumers vital information, and creates an unfair and confusing marketplace as many companies have gone ahead with the labels anyway,” Lurie said in the statement.
The new label makes a series of changes, including recalculating serving sizes, displaying calories per serving more prominently, and including information on added sugars and dietary fiber. Amounts of vitamin D and potassium per serving also will appear. This is the first update to the label in about 20 years.
The final regulations for the new label were announced last year, though there are still some pending questions about the way some fiber ingredients will be considered.
Despite the delay, many manufacturers are already working on putting the new label on their products. According to Label Insight, more than 8,000 products were in circulation this summer with the updated label. The group, which works with brands and the FDA to increase consumer transparency, estimates there will be 15,000 items with it in stores by the end of the year. Major brands, including Hershey, Campbell’s Soup and Mondelez, are among those already including the new label on some of their products.
While the deadline may shift, considering the agency is accepting comments on it through October, it is unlikely. Two weeks ago, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb indicated at an event and on Twitter that he believed 18 months would be an appropriate delay. The change means consumers will see more of a gradual labeling shift on items in the grocery store. It will be interesting to see which products are the longest holdouts toward compliance.