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Snack and Grocery Companies Ask to Put Off New Food Labels

With the new administration, food companies are making an effort to delay a pending nutrition-label change.
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A supermarket in 1965. (Photo: Jackson/Central Press/Getty Images)

A supermarket in 1965. (Photo: Jackson/Central Press/Getty Images)

Food manufacturers are looking for more time to finish their homework.

In the last year of Barack Obama’s presidency, the Food and Drug Administration declared it would soon require companies to revise the nutrition label on processed foods, with changes including larger font in some places and a line indicating how much sugar has been added.But in recent weeks, industry groups have asked officialsfor an extension to their deadline — from July of 2018 to May of 2021, as one written requeststates.

The longer deadline is needed in part because the FDA hasn’t yet issued final guidance on details such as how companies should calculate added sugar, according to a letter that lobbying groups sent to Tom Price, the head of the Department of Health and Human Services. Once that’s been settled, food manufacturers want an additional three years to comply, says Roger Lowe, a spokesman for the Grocery Manufacturers’ Association. But consumer advocacy groups say companies have plenty of time to comply and that they’re delaying changes that would improve people’s health.

“The new nutrition facts label gives consumers better and more easily understandable information,” says Jim O’Hara, director of health promotion policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “We just think it’s time and we think the industry should get onboard.”

The FDA’s upcoming label requirements include bigger serving sizes, to better reflect how much people actually eat; larger font size for some information, such as calories; updated percent daily values “based on newer scientific evidence”; a new definition for “dietary fiber”; and a line declaring the added sugars in the food. The FDA estimates the label will bring $21 billion worth of benefits to Americans every year over the next 20 years in the form of better health. It estimates the labeling change will cost the industry $167 million a year over the same time period. Plus, the FDA thinks companies will alter some of their recipes to be healthier once the law is in action. That’s expected to cost an additional $440 million a year.

President Donald Trump’s nominee for FDA commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, has indicated he would be more amenable to the companies’ complaint. During his Senate confirmation hearing last week, Senator Pat Roberts — also chairman of the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry — asked Gottlieb if he would “consider postponing the current deadline for the nutrition facts panel.”

“This is something I would certainly be delighted to work with you on if I were confirmed in this role,” Gottlieb replied.