Last May, the Food and Drug Administration announced that the Nutrition Facts label on packaged foods would be seeing its first major changes in about 20 years. Possibly the biggest change was a new line for “added sugars,” forcing food manufacturers to tease out naturally occurring sugars from those added for additional sweetness. Like any changes, these new labels were greeted with a bit of controversy from food brands, in part because of the arguably short two year deadline these companies were given to implement them. But President Trump’s nominee to take over as FDA Commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, is already suggesting that if he is confirmed, he’d certainly consider pushing these changes back.
Yesterday, Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) specifically asked about the Nutrition Facts label during Gottlieb’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Roberts wondered if Gottlieb, upon confirmation, would “please work to ensure proper guidance is available and consider postponing the deadline for the Nutrition Facts Panel to help reduce regulatory burdens?” In response, Gottlieb stated that “this is something that I do care about and I look forward to working on if I am confirmed.” He continued by saying he is “philosophically in favor of trying to make sure we do these things efficiently, not only because it imposes undue costs on manufacturers to constantly be updating their labels, but we also have to keep in mind it creates confusion for consumers if the labels are constantly changing.”
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The suggestion of “undue costs” and “constantly changing” labels comes in part because of another potential label change on the horizon: The USDA is set to announce a decision on possible new rules for disclosing GMO ingredients on July 29, 2018 – a mere three days after the deadline for implementation of the new Nutritional Facts labels. Roberts suggested that this timing could result in “hundreds of millions of dollars … lost due to lack of coordination.” Unsurprisingly, a number of major food and beverage industry trade associations agree with this sentiment.
Meanwhile, the Center for Science in the Public Interest thinks the request for a delay is just industry stalling. “The food industry is seeking to delay giving consumers critical nutrition information for as long as possible,” CSPI President Michael Jacobson was quoted as saying. This whole debate would also appear to have a political component. One of the most prominent figures promoting the new Nutrition Facts labels was none other than then-First Lady Michelle Obama. Altering the plan to update Nutritional Facts would be another way for a new administration to put a dent in the Obama legacy.
So for now, consider the new Nutrition Facts labels up in the air. Though assuming Gottlieb does get confirmed, it seems pretty clear which way he would be leaning.