We previously wrote about when the FDA postponed restaurant nutritional labeling requirements at the 11th hour. In Act II today, the FDA extended the compliance date for food manufacturers to update their nutrition labels by eighteen months.
Different Administration, Different FDA
In 2016, under the Obama Administration, the FDA published two final rules: the “Nutrition Facts Label Final Rule” and the “Serving Size Final Rule.” The Obama FDA set the deadline for compliance with these two rules for July 2018 for manufacturers with $10 million or more in annual food sales and for July 2019 for manufacturers with less than $10 million.
In June 2017, the FDA under the Trump Administration announced an indefinite delay in the launch of these initiatives. The FDA published a final rule on May 4, 2018, extending the deadline “in response to concern that companies and trade associations have shared with us regarding the time needed for implementation of the final rules and the need for FDA to provide further guidance to manufacturers subject to the final rules.” The new compliance deadline is now January 1, 2020 for manufacturers with $10 million or more in food sales, and manufacturers with less than $10 million get even more time – until January 1, 2021 – to comply.
The Nutrition Facts Label Final Rule was intended to “improve how the nutrition information is presented to consumers” to “help consumers maintain healthy dietary practices.” It required manufacturers to make a number of changes to their labels including providing more detailed information regarding calories and nutritional context in the form of Daily Reference Values.
The Serving Size Final Rule was intended to “ensure that serving sizes are based on current consumption data and to provide consumers with information on the Nutrition Facts label related to the serving size that will assist them in maintaining healthy dietary practices.” It required all containers over a minimal threshold of Reference Amounts Customarily Consumed (in my house an entire can of Pringles or a pint of Three Twins ice cream) to be labeled as a single-serving container.
Keeping Today’s FDA Action in Perspective
While intense lobbying from some food and beverage industry trade groups has resulted in the delays to changes in the Nutrition Facts Panels and serving sizes, not every manufacturer has been sitting idly by. Manufacturers of all sizes have been early adopters in implementing these changes. When you go to the grocery store, take a little extra time to review the packages of the foods that you routinely buy. Chances are, you will see a mixture of new and old Nutrition Facts Panel formats.
While consumers and health advocates see the delays as a significant public policy gaffe by the FDA, FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb has stated that the FDA will be implementing other changes previously championed by the former Obama Administration such as sodium reduction targets for food products, and caloric disclosures on chain restaurant menus. According to the FDA, the changes that consumers will see are intended to educate everyone as to the link between diet and chronic diseases such as obesity and heart disease. Wherever you fall on the “need” for these rule change delays, gaining a better understanding that what we eat matters is a healthy goal for all of us.