The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is indefinitely delaying the requirement that food companies use the new nutrition facts labels on its products.
The new label, finalized in May 2016 with support of then-First Lady Michelle Obama, draws greater attention to serving size, calories and added sugars in food products. Early opponents of the new format included several packaged food companies, like Golden Valley-based General Mills.
Large companies originally had until July 26, 2018, to switch to the new labels while smaller food companies were given one additional year to make the change. The FDA updated its website Tuesday acknowledging its decision to extend the compliance date.
FDA spokeswoman Deborah Kotz would not comment on what the new deadline is, adding only that details would be made clearer once the extension is formally announced in the Federal Register. She declined to comment on when that formal announcement would take place.
Several large food industry trade groups petitioned the FDA to delay the new label requirements up to three years.
General Mills, in multiple comments submitted to the FDA in 2014 and 2015 before the final labeling rule, voiced strong opposition to the requirement that companies call out how many grams of added sugars are included in each product’s total sugar. The company argued the physiological effects of sugar were the same between naturally occurring and added, processed sugars. The agency ultimately disagreed.
The agency said the delay is meant to give the food manufacturers more time “to complete and print updated nutrition facts panels for their products”.
But some food companies, such as Mondelez International and PepsiCo, have already implemented the new label package requirements on certain products. Mondelez has rolled out the new, boldfaced label on its Wheat Thins boxes while PepsiCo did so on its Fritos, Cheetos and Lay’s snacks.
Austin-based Hormel Foods Corp. took issue with several of the proposed changes in a comment submitted to the agency in 2014, but began work last fall on updating the nutrition facts panel on several of its products, which should appear on store shelves in the coming six months. Still, “the FDA’s decision to extend the compliance date is welcome as we continue to work diligently to update our labels,” Hormel spokesman Rick Williamson said in an e-mail.
General Mills declined to comment on when it plans to feature the new label on its products. “We look forward to hearing from the FDA regarding the new compliance date and will adjust our plans accordingly,” Bridget Christenson, a General Mills spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.
It’s the latest in a series of food labeling delays expected under the Trump Administration. Last month, the FDA delayed a rule requiring chain restaurants, grocery and convenience stores and other food retailers to post calorie counts for prepared food and beverages on its menu. The one-year delay came a day before industry was due to comply. Many restaurants, like McDonald’s and Perkins, have already listed calories on menus.
Meanwhile, many industry leaders and consumer groups are awaiting the Agriculture Department’s final rule for the new GMO, or biotech foods, labeling law. Congress passed the law last July and mandated the department publish a final rule for industry by July 2018.
Reactions from interest groups were swift and diverse. The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) applauded the decision, citing a lack of guidance on new definitions for added sugar and dietary fiber.
“The fast-approaching compliance deadline was virtually impossible to meet without the needed final guidance documents from FDA,” Pamela G. Bailey, GMA’s president and CEO, said in a written statement. “FDA’s extension is both reasonable and practical.”
But consumer groups see the delay as government catering to big business interests rather than the American public. “As with its delay of menu labeling, the FDA will end up denying consumers critical information they need to make healthy food choices in a timely manner and will throw the food industry into disarray,” Jim O’Hara, director of health promotion policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said in a statement.