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“Added Sugar”on Food Labels Gets Pushback from the Usual Suspects

Lynn Adams
Jun 27, 2014

Previously, I told you about the new FDA proposal to change current nutrition labels on food packaging. There were, in my opinion, some very practical and useful suggestions such as requiring a separate line for “added sugars.” This has drawn criticism from, you guessed it, the food industry. It seems like any time an industry risks a hit to their bottom line due to new regulation, they find something to howl about. This is precisely what they did at a public meeting on June 26th.

We’re not talking here about labeling naturally occurring sugars in food; we’re talking about the sugars added by the manufacturer. Sugars can show up in the strangest places, in processed foods that you wouldn’t consider “sweets.” A can of sweet peas can contain a teaspoon of added sugar. Just when you thought eating your veggies was healthy! From a health perspective, the American Heart Association recommends no more than six teaspoons (24 g) of added sugar per day for most women, and no more than nine (36 g) for men; the World Health Organization has suggested lowering added sugar intake to five percent of the diet. The average American consumes 22 teaspoons (88 grams) of added sugar per day, so clearly something needs to be done to help the public control the sugar-fest. Knowledge is power, and the new changes will make the labels more useful to consumers. How can that be a bad thing?

Nutrition experts and public interest groups are ecstatic about the changes, the executive director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) noted, “added sugars represent 15% of the American diet, and those sugars deserve a place on the label.” A Harvard professor of nutrition and medicine noted the growing evidence linking added sugars and poor health, and said “this proposal is science-driven.” Science driven, remember that term – it’s important. This is a strong endorsement from a well-respected professor at a top university in the U.S. The food industry pushed back, as would be expected, calling the added sugars line “misleading to consumers.” They failed to explain how giving people correct information might be misleading. They also stated that there is no “scientific basis” for this change. 

They also stated that the new labels would create “burdensome record-keeping requirements” on the industry. AHA! Here at last we have one real kernel of contention, and at least it is a kernel of truth. As is true with all things regulatory in this country, it always comes down to money—and only some people’s money at that. So what is the health of the nation worth with respect to the industry bottom line? How can executives at the Sugar Association (this is a real thing) justify arguing against decreasing the added health care burden, the cost of health care and the years of life lost to complications from illnesses induced from the overconsumption of added sugars?

Industry groups also complained that the new requirement is meaningless without an FDA-mandated threshold for added sugar consumption, which currently does not exist.

The executive director for CSPI countered with a challenge: “If the FDA feels it doesn’t have the authority or scientific knowledge, the agency should immediately task the Institute of Medicine for coming up with a reference value for a daily value (of added sugar intake).” I say, yes, please do! This is the best idea to come out of the public meeting. What do you think?

Photo credit: www.carlagoldenwellness.com

Lynn Adams

Lynn S. Adams, Ph.D. is an Alumni Fellow. She blogs about nutrition policy, the connections between nutrition and disease risk, the health effects of environmental exposures and the cancer prevention potential of natural products at Sci on the Fly. If you want Lynn to share her posts with you, follow her on Twitter: @lstedda68.

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