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FDA’s Proposed Redefinition of ‘Healthy’ on Food Labels Sparks Industry Pushback

Fast Food healthy or unhealthy

The FDA is pushing through new rules for what will be labeled ‘healthy’, but are facing pushback from food manufacturers.

The food industry is pushing back against the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) proposed changes to the definition of “healthy” on food labels. The FDA’s new rules state that manufacturers can label products as “healthy” only if they contain a meaningful amount of food from at least one of the main food groups recommended by federal dietary guidelines, such as fruits, vegetables, or dairy. Additionally, they must adhere to specific limits for certain nutrients, such as saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars.

The added sugar limit has been the sticking point for many food executives. They claim the proposed rule is overly restrictive and will result in most current food products not making the cut or in unappealing product reformulations. The Consumer Brands Association, which represents 1,700 major food brands, wrote a 54-page comment to the FDA opposing the change. In their claim, the proposed rule exceeded FDA’s authority because there’s no scientific consensus on sugar intake and diet-related diseases.

The proposed rule has also drawn opposition from the International Dairy Foods Association. The American Cheese Society, and the snack industry represented by SNAC International also opposed the rule. The American Cheese Society argued that the word “healthy” should be used in a complete diet or lifestyle context. Meanwhile, SNAC International claimed the new proposed rules were too restrictive.

The FDA remains committed to going with the most recent dietary guidelines. These include recommend limiting added sugars to less than 10% of daily calories, despite industry opposition. The agency’s plan would limit grains and dairy products to 2.5 grams of added sugar per serving. In addition, other products such as fruits, vegetables, meats, nuts, and eggs must not contain any added sugar.

The American Heart Association (AHA) supports the FDA’s new healthy definition. However, the AHA thinks heavily processed, non-nutrient-dense foods manipulated to meet the criteria should not claim ‘healthy’.

While the food industry may not be happy with the proposed changes, the FDA doesn’t believe it will have a significant impact on consumers’ behavior. A recent study in the Journal of Public Policy and Marketing found that front-of-package nutrition labeling is not very effective in providing usable information to consumers. The most effective means of conveying nutrition information, according to the study is a graphic warning label. Several countries, including Chile, Peru, and Uruguay, have adopted this practice.

Impact on Asian markets

The impact of the FDA’s suggested changes  may extend beyond the United States. It could also have implications for the Asian market.

Many Asian countries have been experiencing a rise in obesity and related health issues due to changes in lifestyle and dietary habits. The World Health Organization has reported that Asia is home to more than 60% of the world’s diabetic population. China and India are among the countries that have the highest number of people with diabetes. If the regulations are enforced, production of some of the world’s most popular food and drink items may be affected, and may taste different to some consumers. Depending on the outcome of the revised rules, the countries in Asia may also eventually adopt similar standards.

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