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Base voluntary front-of-pack labeling on calories, say confectioners

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 03-Aug-2010

The National Confectioners Association (NCA) has said it favors voluntary listing of calories front-of-pack rather than introducing a scale or rating system, in comments to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The NCA represents the interests of about 400 confectioners throughout the United States, as well as about 200 ingredient, packaging, equipment and service suppliers to the industry. It has urged the FDA to take into account “confectionery-specific issues”, as the agency considers comments on a voluntary front-of-pack nutrition labeling system, which the FDA hopes will increase consumer use of nutrition information to make more nutritious choices. The comment period has now closed.

“NCA supports the important goal to reduce childhood obesity in the United States, and will continue to promote candy's role in a healthy lifestyle,” the association said, but added that while it could not predict how many confectioners would voluntarily adopt a new front-of-pack nutrition label, there are several elements that would make it more attractive to industry. The FDA has said that any voluntary front-of-pack (FOP) labeling system can only work if it is broadly implemented.

Good vs. bad foods

In particular, the NCA rejects the idea of a nutrition ranking system, such as traffic lights or a numerical scale, which it said would promote some foods as ‘good’ and others as ‘bad’ in a way that “would likely denigrate candy.”

“Moderation and balance are keys to enjoying confections in a healthy diet,” the NCA said. “By knowing the calorie and nutrient content of candy, consumers can decide for themselves if and how to incorporate them appropriately.”

It said that a calorie-only option would be the simplest, most cost-efficient option, particularly for small players in the industry, and claims that such an approach would be most effective for tackling obesity.

“Even though FDA is likely considering FOP options that include multiple nutrients, NCA believes a calorie-only option would be the most straightforward and easy-to-use FOP information for consumers,” it said.

Consider small packages, large stocks

In addition, the association asked the FDA to consider the difficulty of implementing a front-of-pack system for small or unusually shaped packaging; and to allow for small- and medium-sized confectionery manufacturers to use up packaging stocks that they may have bought in bulk before they switch a new system.

The FDA’s announcement in October that it intended to revise front-of-pack labeling coincided with public furor over the use of the Smart Choices labeling program, which was widely criticized after it gave its green check mark to sugary cereals. The agency said at that time that it would investigate on-pack and on-shelf nutrition labeling with a view to developing a standardized set of criteria to curtail consumer confusion over label claims. It has also said it is researching ways in which the Nutrition Facts panel could be revised to make it more helpful to consumers.

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