In a major loss to the sugar industry, the Food and Drug Administration on Friday ordered food companies to disclose the amount of added sugar in all packaged foods.
Until now, the agency required companies to list only the total amount of sugar in each product, with no distinction between naturally occurring sugars from fruit, for example, and sugar added in the form of high-fructose corn syrup or other flavorings.
Public health advocates cheered the new label, but the Sugar Association blasted it, arguing that it’s not fair to focus on one ingredient rather than looking at the overall nutritional value of processed food. The group predicted the labels would end up “undermining consumer trust and increasing consumer apathy, something we can ill afford as we search for meaningful solutions to the complex problem of obesity.”
The FDA also revised serving sizes to align more closely with the portions that Americans actually eat —which is more than when the servings were last defined in 1993.
The serving size for ice cream will increase from a half-cup to two-thirds of a cup, for example, which means the label will disclose a higher calorie count per serving. The serving size for soft drinks will jump from eight ounces to 12 ounces.
And the era of the two-ounce bagel officially ends: Going forward, estimates of bagel calories will be based on the larger, more ubiquitous four-ounce bagel.
Most companies will have until July of 2018 to adopt the new labels. Manufacturers with less than $10 million in annual food sales will have an additional year to comply.
First Lady Michelle Obama, who has long campaigned for healthier diets, praised the revised labels, saying they’ll “make a real difference” in giving families information to make healthy choices.
FDA Commissioner Robert Califf echoed that notion, saying the new labels reflect a better understanding of the link between diet and chronic illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes.
“This is not about telling people what they should eat,” Califf said. “Our goal is to help people make better informed food choices that support a healthy diet.”
Michael Jacobson, president of the consumer watchdog group Center for Science in the Public Interest, predicted the labels would spur food manufacturers to cut the sugar in their products. “Right now, it’s impossible for consumers who look at a Nutrition Facts label to know how much of the sugar in foods is added and how that amount fits into a reasonable daily diet,” he said.