The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned in October that it would consider using its regulatory tools “if voluntary action by the food industry does not result in a common, credible approach” to front-of-pack and on-shelf labeling. It has also said it is researching ways in which the Nutrition Facts panel could be revised to make it more helpful to consumers.
Among the clutch of warning letters, the FDA singled out several companies that have been promoting foods as containing zero grams of trans fat front-of-pack, without reference to high levels of saturated fat. Companies to receive warnings for this reason included Dreyers Grand Ice Cream, Schwan’s Consumer Brands, and Spectrum Organic Products, none of which responded to requests for comment prior to publication. A zero trans fat claim is allowed on-pack, as long as products carry a disclosure statement if they have high levels of saturated fat.
Hamburg’s letter said: “Claims that a product is free of trans fats, which imply that the product is a better choice than products without the claim, can be misleading when a product is high in saturated fat, and especially so when the claim is not accompanied by the required statement referring consumers to the more complete information on the Nutrition Facts panel.”
Nestle’s Juicy Juice also came under scrutiny, with the FDA saying it was misleadingly labeled, implying that it contains 100 percent juice when it actually consists of juice blends with added flavors. Nestle was also warned about its Juicy Juice Brain Development drink, as dietary claims are not allowed on products intended for children under the age of two. No one from Nestle was available for comment.
Companies that received warning letters have 15 days to tell the FDA how they plan to fix their labels, or face further regulatory action, including possible removal from the marketplace.
Commenting on Hamburg’s letter, the Grocery Manufacturers Association said in a statement: “The food and beverage industry is committed to providing consumers with the products and information they need to achieve and maintain a healthy lifestyle. GMA agrees with and supports federal laws requiring food labels to be truthful and non-misleading. As Commissioner Hamburg noted, the examples cited are not indicative of the food industry as a whole.”
Director of legal affairs at the Center for Science in the Public Interest Bruce Silverglade said: “For far too long, manufacturers have exaggerated the healthfulness of their products, or even implied that their products contain special “functional” ingredients that provide drug-like protection against various diseases. The previous administration tolerated such shenanigans, but I hope that the party is now over.”
Other companies to receive warning letters included those making health claims about antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that are either not allowed on food products, or that are not allowed for children under the age of two, as no appropriate dietary levels have been established for children in this age range.
Hamburg’s letter to industry can be accessed here.
The list of companies and products to have received warning letters is available here.
After publication of this article Schwan's Consumer Brands contacted this website with the following statement: “At Schwan’s Consumer Brands, we are committed to maintaining compliance with all federal labeling regulations. We fully intend to cooperate with the FDA labeling change and make the appropriate adjustments to our packaging to resolve this matter. The statements on our packaging are truthful and placed on the front of the package due to consumer interest in trans fat. The FDA labeling change requires our zero trans fat statement made on the front of the package to require additional labeling information. We will comply with the FDA’s change and remain committed to delivering great taste with zero trans fats in these products.”