The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) has dominated food regulations within the United States in recent years, but nutrition and nutrition labeling have persisted as important issues for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In fact, the agency has published rules in recent years to require calorie labeling on restaurant menus, and finalized a significant overhaul of the nutrition labeling requirements for packaged foods. However, the FDA seems to be delaying some of most significant regulatory initiatives in response to industry requests and the current deregulatory environment of the new presidential administration.
In early May, the FDA extended the compliance date for the federal menu labeling requirements from May 5, 2017 to May 7, 2018. Under the federal rule, retail establishments with more than 20 locations, including restaurants, convenience stores and other establishments, will be required to post calorie information for standard menu items on printed menus, menu boards and drive-through menus. Despite the delay of the federal menu labeling rule, New York City announced it would begin enforcing the city’s rules for menu labeling requirements beginning on May 22 for all food retailers with 15 locations or more nationwide.
The recent postponement of FDA’s nutrition labeling rule for packaged foods was widely supported by the food industry, but strongly opposed by public health advocates, including coalition of 44 scientists and researchers. In May 2016, the FDA published the Nutrition Facts Panel final rule as well as a rule for updating the reference amounts customarily consumed and serving sizes. Food companies with $10 million or greater in annual sales were originally required to comply with the Nutrition Facts labeling requirements by July 26, 2018. The agency has not yet established a new deadline for the rules, but it is expected to extend the compliance date to 2021 to coincide with the USDA’s regulation for the labeling of genetically modified foods.
The FDA could be delaying the nutrition labeling rules in response to questions about definition of ‘dietary fiber’ in the final rule. The regulatory definition of ‘dietary fiber’ for food labeling purposes has been a controversial and confusing issue for years, but the FDA is attempting to clarify the definition. Food labels that currently declare fiber might be in violation of the new rules unless the agency amends the list of approved dietary fibers.
The new FDA Commissioner has indicated the agency will not move forward with voluntary sodium reduction targets this year. Serious health risks, including high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke, have been associated with the excessive sodium content of the typical American diet. To prevent these risks, the FDA issued draft guidance last year to establish voluntary sodium reduction targets for 150 categories of food. The draft guidance triggered more than 200 written comments, including many comments submitted by the leading food industry trade associations and some of the largest food manufacturers in North America. Several industry groups have expressed concerns about the technological challenges of reducing sodium in food.
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Source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration