In comments to the FDA on its nutrition innovation strategy AND said the agency “should consider whether, taken as a whole, such labels, images or claims are misleading or deceptive, and should use its full range of regulatory options, including enforcement, as well as developing new clarifying guidance or regulations where needed.”
AND’s comments – which follow a wave of lawsuits accusing brands of marketing fruit themed products that are “essentially candy” as “nutritious and healthful” – draw attention to so-called ‘permission marketing,’ in which a “health halo is intentionally created to make food and beverages appear more healthful than they are."
“Specifically,” said AND (the nation’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals) “consumers should not be misled that processed foods touting images of fruits and vegetables are actually adequate dietary substitutes for fresh fruits and vegetables.
“For this reason, it is critical that the FDA’s initiative should seek to correct misleading or inaccurate labeling claims and should not enable unhealthy foods to unfairly compete with fresh fruits and vegetables, which occupy too little space in Americans’ diets.”
"Consumers should not be misled that processed foods touting images of fruits and vegetables are actually adequate dietary substitutes for fresh fruits and vegetables..."
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
‘Healthy’ logo should not appear on fruit snacks and sugary cereals
Moreover, foods that contain fruits or vegetables that are not in their whole or cut form (eg. powders, concentrated fruit juice, purees) should count towards the amount of fruit in the declaration, argued AND.
While a ‘healthy logo’ – something currently being considered by FDA commissioner Dr Scott Gottlieb – has potential, it should not appear on fruit snacks, sugary cereals and desserts, potato chips, pretzels and crackers high in refined grains, “and other unhealthy or merely ‘not-unhealthy’ foods and beverages,” added AND.
FDA should define ‘low sugar’
Finally, the FDA should also issue regulations or take enforcement actions to define use of the term ‘low sugar’ – which currently has no legal definition - as a nutrient content claim, said AND, which noted that some products deploying claims such as ‘lightly sweetened’ contained “as much as 20g sugar, or 40% of the daily value for added sugars.”
Many of its points were echoed by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), which argued that any definition of ‘healthy’ should include limits on added sugars.
The Sugar Association: Are we replacing one nutritional bogeyman with another?
The Sugar Association however, expressed fears that one nutritional bogeyman (fat), is simply being replaced by another (sugar), despite the fact that “added sugar consumption has been on a significant decline for the past 20 years.”
It added: “FDA’s single ingredient focus does a disservice to the public. It only adds additional fuel to the oversimplified and long-standing trend of having a different nutritional ‘villain’ each decade.”
Other commentators meanwhile, encouraged the agency to allow firms to label vitamins on the ingredients list with consumer friendly names such as vitamin C (instead of ascorbic acid), with the GMA noting that “current naming requirements for letter vitamins differs between the nutrition facts panel and the ingredient declaration depending on the vitamin.
“On the nutrition facts panel, in some instances, the letter name only is required (vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D, E, K). In other instances, the common and usual name, most often a chemical name, is required (niacin, pantothenic acid).
“The ingredient declaration requires vitamins to be listed by their common and usual name, whereas the nutrition facts more commonly allows letter vitamins. This inconsistency is confusing.”
Conagra Brands: Demand for clean labels is having unintended nutritional consequences
ConAgra Brands in turn urged the FDA to allow firms to state ‘enriched wheat flour’ on the ingredients list without having to list the chemical-sounding names of the things it has been enriched with in brackets afterwards.
Indeed, the demand for short, clean labels is having “the unintended consequence of manufacturers using unenriched flours to achieve shorter, more understandable ingredients lists,” said the company.
- Read more stakeholder comments on the FDA's nutrition innovation strategy HERE.