The FDA recently proposed to extend the compliance dates for the nutrition facts label to Jan 1, 2020, for manufacturers with $10m or more in annual food sales. Companies with annual sales less than that would receive an additional year to comply.
“The new date is very helpful for the small- and mid-sized companies as they need more clarity from the FDA on how to comply with the new rules,” VP of public affairs and communications at the National Confectioners Association (NCA), Christopher Gindlesperger, said.
However, he pointed out the real challenge that food companies face is the harmonization between GMO labeling law and the nutrition facts panel.
“Making changes to packaging is costly for the companies. Aligning compliance dates for both GMO and nutrition facts panel label changes makes more sense for food companies, because they’d only need to change their labels once to incorporate new GMO and Nutrtion Facts Panel requirements,” Gindlesperger said.
The US Congress passed the National Bioengineered Foods Disclosure Standard in 2016, which requires food companies to label GMO ingredients on their products.
USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service is expected to implement the law by July 29, 2018, but has yet to determine a compliance date.
“We have no issues with what’s on the label… It’s the compliance timeline that was burdensome for the small and mid-sized companies, especially because the government hadn’t issued any guidance on the technical aspects of the label change,” Gindlesperger added.
Will companies comply?
Tyler Merrick, the CEO of gum and gummy maker Project 7, also believes misaligning compliance dates of the two labeling laws can cause more damage to small confectioners than large companies
“There is a lot of old packaging that gets wasted, along with the cost of new printing plates and art changes,” he said. “While it may be a rounding error for larger businesses versus smaller ones, it is still difficult to work around financially for all.”
However, Merrick said there are potential ways for the government to incentivize compliance and better public and private partnerships.
“For instance, the new [FDA] regulations take place by a certain date, but if a company gets them done earlier by that, the government can give the company a sliding scale marginal rebate on taxes based off its gross sales,” he said.
“It doesn’t have to be a major, but $5,000 to a small company would go along the way… instead of companies feeling pinched and frustrated, the government would help potentially create a positive tone and response,” Merrick added.
‘Added sugars’ is still confusing
Synchronizing the compliance dates of nutrition facts panel and GMO labeling law is not the only concern that bothers manufacturers. The definition of some label terms, such as dietary fibers and added sugars, still need to be clarified.
Courtney Gaine, the president and CEO of The Sugar Association, said it is “impossible to test” added sugars in food products.
FDA’s recently drafted guideline shows that added sugar includes “sugars that are either added during the processing of foods, or are packaged as such, and include sugars (free, mono- and disaccharides), sugars from syrups and honey, and sugars from concentrated fruit or vegetable juices that are in excess of what would be expected from the same volume of 100% fruit or vegetable juice of the same type.”
“While the definition sounds simple. In reality, determining added sugars is complicated for a variety of reasons,” Gaine told ConfectioneryNews.
“For one, the same glucose, fructose and galactose molecules in added sugars are also found inherently in many fruits, vegetables, dairy and nut products,” she said.
“Another factor is that the sugars that are included in a recipe, aren’t necessarily there in the end product. Sugars are lost to browning and fermentation, as well as other processes.”
Gaine further argued that the human body handles intrinsic and added sugars the same way because they are the same molecules, so “calling out added sugars doesn’t make sense from a metabolic standpoint.”
The Sugar Association, which represents the US sugar beet and sugar cane growers, processors and refiners, said it has submitted comments throughout the labeling rule making process to the FDA.
It will also work with the FDA to educate the US general public on sugar labeling in the future, Gaine said.