- With the Food and Drug Administration’s menu labeling law likely delayed once again, the food industry sees opportunities to stall further regulations targeting added sugars, dietary fiber and more, according to The Washington Post.
- Current and pending Trump administration officials appear to be receptive to business concerns. During his confirmation hearing, Scott Gottlieb, the president’s pick to lead the FDA, said he supported “clear, accurate and understandable” information for consumers, but noted, “I am mindful of the unique challenges that developing and communicating such information can pose.”
- Public health organizations, meanwhile, have pushed for the FDA not to delay its implementation of regulations, and have encouraged their supporters to contact their representatives.
According to the National Association of Chain Stores, the FDA submitted to the White House Office of Management and Budget an interim rule Thursday that signals a delay in the menu labeling law. The law was set to go into effect May 5. The text of the interim rule is not yet available to the public.
This marks yet another delay for a law that passed back in 2010 as part of the Affordable Care Act. For the food industry, the delay is significant because it may be the first of many concessions granted by a Trump administration that doesn’t have much appetite for regulations.
In addition to the menu labeling law, which the grocery and convenience store industries argued placed an undue burden on them, the food industry has petitioned the FDA to delay implementation of new Nutrition Facts labels highlighting calories and added sugars. Industry groups have said that the overhaul — currently with a July 2018 deadline — is too close to the 2021 date by which mandatory genetically modified ingredient labeling needs to be implemented, meaning two back-to-back radical changes in labeling. Additionally, some say they need further clarification from the agency on the meaning of different areas on the label. The baking industry, meanwhile, is pressing the FDA to amend or withdraw a new definition of dietary fiber that excludes many popular synthetic varieties.
These petitions seem to have a receptive audience with the Trump administration. Scott Gottlieb, the administration’s pick to head the FDA, has served on the boards of pharmaceutical companies, and in past writings about that industry has argued that the FDA stifles innovation by focusing too much on consumer protections. Many observers believe he will apply that same industry-first thinking in addressing regulations for the food industry. At his confirmation hearing, Gottlieb said that he would consider the idea of extending the deadline. Gottlieb’s nomination has been sent to the full Senate for a vote.
This all bodes well for grocers and manufacturers, who want to avoid the costs associated with menu and labeling changes, and who would rather not call attention to the less-than-healthy aspects of their products. There’s also a question of how effective additional labeling might be, considering most people don’t regard calorie counts or carefully read the Nutrition Facts panel.
But for consumers, labeling revisions can be very beneficial. The addition of trans fat to the Nutrition Facts panel in 2006 helped motivate companies to phase out the ingredient, which was once viewed as a healthier alternative to saturated fat. Public health advocates say the same retreat could happen with added sugars. Major food companies have recently begun reducing their sugar counts, and some might argue that’s a sign that the industry is dealing with the matter on its own. But regulations like changes to the Nutrition Facts panel affect every manufacturer and retailer in the country, and would go a long way towards raising awareness that could lead to even further changes — ones that could be time-consuming and costly for food companies.