US food makers given more time to make changes to Nutrition Facts labels

US food makers given more time to make changes to Nutrition Facts labels

The US government has pushed back the planned introduction of changes to the Nutrition Facts labels used on food sold in the country.

In a statement issued today (13 June), the US Food and Drug Administration said it would give manufacturers more time to comply with the changes, which were announced in May last year and included the addition of information on "added sugars".

The announcement followed calls made this spring by US industry bodies to be given longer to introduce the new labels. The FDA's decision was welcomed by industry but criticised in campaign circles.

Food companies operating in the US had until 26 July 2018 to bring in the new labels, which also included new information on serving sizes. Manufacturers generating sales of less than US$10m were to be given an extra year. In its statement today, the FDA gave no specific indication on new deadlines.

"The FDA intends to extend the compliance dates to provide the additional time for implementation. The framework for the extension will be guided by the desire to give industry more time and decrease costs, balanced with the importance of minimising the transition period during which consumers will see both the old and the new versions of the label in the marketplace. The FDA will provide details of the extension through a Federal Register Notice at a later time," the agency said.

When the new labels were unveiled last year, The Grocery Manufacturers Association, the trade body representing food makers doing business in the US, acknowledged eating habits had changed but cautioned the changes could confuse shoppers. It "applauded" today's announcement by the FDA.

"FDA's common-sense decision will reduce consumer confusion and costs," Pamela Bailey, the GMA's president and CEO, said. "Food and beverage manufacturers are committed to giving consumers the information and tools they need to make informed choices, such as by updating the Nutrition Facts Panel. But the fast-approaching compliance deadline was virtually impossible to meet without the needed final guidance documents from FDA. FDA's extension is both reasonable and practical."

US campaign group the Center for Science in the Public Interest hit out at the announcement and claimed some manufacturers had already brought in the changes.

"The ability of the Trump Administration to repeat its mistakes is breathtaking," Jim O'Hara, the health promotion policy director at the CSPI, said. "Today, the Food and Drug Administration announced that it intends to delay the compliance date for the updated Nutrition Facts label. 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. The updated Nutrition Facts label, announced in May 2016, gives consumers calorie information in a bolder format, uses more realistic serving sizes, and most importantly provides a separate line and daily value for added sugars."

When the labels were launched last May, the then First Lady Michelle Obama was praised by campaigners for her role in the planned changes. She said at the time she was "thrilled" about the changes. "This is going to make a real difference in providing families across the country the information they need to make healthy choices," she said.