Lately, it takes courage for me to look at headlines each morning, let alone read the news. But read I do, because I want to be informed. As a result, I often experience a rush of negative emotions before I make it through the first couple of sips of coffee. It's not unusual for me to feel sadness, disgust, embarrassment, incredulousness, disappointment, worry, shame and fury just reading the first few headlines. Unfortunately, I can't say that I'm often surprised.
But this week, I was.
The Federal Drug Administration has put an indefinite hold on rolling out the revised nutrition labels on food packaging because of "companies' and trade groups' requests for more time," according to USA Today.
Changes to the nutrition label
On May 27, 2016, the FDA published the final rules for the new nutrition labels, according to the FDA.gov page that (as of right now) is still in existence. The new nutrition labels were supposed to reflect updated information about nutrition science, to clarify the difference between natural sugars and added sugars in a product, and to update serving sizes to reflect more accurately the how people actually eat.
At the time, the deadline to use the new label was July 26, 2018, except for manufacturers with less than $10 million in annual food sales. They would have an additional year to comply.
FDA pushes compliance date to a 'later time'
Final, however, isn't absolutely final because earlier this week, the FDA decided "that additional time would provide manufacturers covered by the rule with necessary guidance from FDA, and would help them be able to complete and print updated nutrition facts panels for their products before they are expected to be in compliance." That's the official stance on the FDA.gov page. There's no new date for compliance, only a statement that "The FDA will provide details of the extension through a Federal Register Notice at a later time."
I'm not holding my breath.
These are all the reasons this surprised and infuriated me
1. The decision was made because of the" lobbying from the packaged food and beverage industry," according to The Washington Post. I'm so tired of our government being controlled by corporations and special interest groups.
In this instance, these groups said they had "issues regarding (among other things) the need for upgrades to labeling software, getting nutrition information from suppliers, the number of products that would need new labels and a limited time for the reformulation of products," as reported in USA Today. Food manufacturers have no problem turning boxes pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month or adding characters from the latest hit movie franchise onto cereal boxes, but two full years (three for smaller companies) to change a black-and-white label is not enough?
2. What need is there to reformulate a product just to put the new nutrition label on it? None. It's a ridiculous reason to delay the implementation of the new nutrition labels. This leads me to believe that companies are going to try to surreptitiously make some products slightly healthier so the new labels don't reveal how unhealthy the products have been all along.
3. Added sugars are literally killing us, and the FDA is delaying giving us clear information about them. Added sugars add to the risk of dying of heart disease, according to the American Heart Association. They are a contributor to obesity, Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, even in children. It's to the benefit of consumers to have the information about a product's naturally occurring sugars and added sugars detailed separately. It's important to help people make educated choices about what foods to eat, and as a mom, I think it's especially important for parents to be able make educated choices for our children about what they eat.
Sure, most parents realize that when they feed their child a candy bar, they're giving him something full of added sugars. But do they realize they could be doing the same when feeding him applesauce? Applesauce has naturally occurring sugars, but half of the sugars in some packaged applesauce is processed sugar dumped into the already naturally sweet kid-favorite snack. Seeing that information in black and white is likely to make a difference for many consumers. The FDA is putting the companies' supposed needs above the real needs of the people.
4. According to The Washington Post, some corporations have already done the work. Nabisco/Mondelez already has the new labels on Wheat Thins, and PepsiCo has the labels on Lay's Chips. KIND has also rolled out the new labels. Mars is on board for the 2018 deadline and believes it's important for the consumers to have the information. Yet, some food industry groups are saying meeting the 2018 deadline is "impossible." It doesn't seem impossible if some companies have already done it.
5. Finally, I'm infuriated because it seems no positive, consumer health-oriented legislation fought for and won by the previous administration is safe from the current administration. The school lunch standards, which were far from perfect but certainly moving in a better direction, have been loosened. The rules around whole grains, milk and salt have all been relaxed. The FDA also delayed the implementation of calorie counts on menus, yet the FDA's own page says calorie information on restaurant menus "will be especially helpful for consumers."
It's tempting to tune out the news of the day, but it's important for us to stay informed. While the indefinite hold on the new nutrition label may seem like a small thing compared to some of the other things happening right now, we need to know what's going on and contact our representatives about these smaller things.
We're all politically fatigued, but it's time to pick up our phones again and call our representatives about the issues we care about.