- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is taking comments on how best to address labeling of sweeteners that are metabolized differently than sugar on food and beverage packaging. These sweeteners, which include allulose, D-tagatose and isomaltulose, are being used more in food and drink, but aren't always indicated as sweeteners under the current Nutrition Facts and ingredient list design.
- The agency also finalized guidance that will exempt allulose from being included as an "added sugar" on Nutrition Facts label. This guidance was released in draft form in April 2019. Allulose must be included in the ingredients list and calorie count for products, with each gram of the sweetener having 0.4 calories, the FDA said.
- As more manufacturers seek to use less traditional sugar in their products, they are turning to alternative sweeteners. Under current labeling rules, consumers may not always know what sweeteners are in products and how much is used. The Sugar Association filed a petition with the FDA in June asking for an overhaul of labeling rules when they apply to alternative sweeteners to provide more information to consumers.
The Sugar Association petitioned FDA for sweeping changes to sweetener labeling this summer, arguing consumers don't always know ingredients including maltitol, rebaudioside A and erythritol are all added sweeteners. Under current labeling conventions, they argued, products with these sweeteners can accurately be labeled as "all natural" and "no sugar added." As a result, consumers often incorrectly assume the products have no other sweeteners in them.
This new docket from the FDA doesn't necessarily directly address the Sugar Association's concern, but it does crack the door open for the kinds of wider reform they're looking for. In the notice published in the Federal Register, FDA asks for information about these other sweeteners, including what's important in their total impact on the body, what consumers know and understand about them, whether they should be included as "added sugars" on the label, and how they should be represented on labels.
In this docket, FDA is only asking for comments on sweeteners that are metabolized differently from sugar, which are fairly limited. Allulose, D-tagatose and isomaltulose are the only three the agency states it readily knows about that fit this description. Sugar alcohols, which include sorbitol, xylitol and erythritol, are not included in this docket, though they are sometimes listed separately on Nutrition Facts labels. In addition, high-intensity sweeteners, including stevia, also are omitted from this docket.
However, there's no reason why comments on this issue can't be used to try to broaden the issue of sweetener labeling. If enough consumers, manufacturers and groups making proposals ask for specific labeling of these sweeteners, it could push FDA to continue the conversation, extending it to other ingredients in the segment. The Sugar Association wants every sweetener to be identified as such in parentheses, as well as added disclosures for items marketed for children or items with no- or low-sugar claims.
Research conducted by the Sugar Association indicate this is the kind of information consumers want to know. In an online poll the group conducted of 1,002 adults in late spring, 66% said it was important to know how their food is sweetened. Two in five consumers said it was very important to know if there are sugar substitutes or artificial sweeteners in their food. And almost six in 10 would prefer to have ingredients clearly labeled with simple equivalents next to chemical names.
The timing of this docket is key to a larger-scale discussion about sweetener labeling. According to the Federal Register, comments on this issue will be accepted for 60 days, and then the larger-scale federal rulemaking process will go forward. But with the presidential election two weeks away, there also is a chance bigger changes could eventually take place when it comes to sweeteners. Although a change in administration is not likely to stop or slow this rulemaking, it could bring a new team into the department that could have a different perspective on sweetener labeling.