“With regards to the Nutrition Facts label timeline … we have had requests to extend and we have also had requests not to change it,” Susan Mayne, director of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, told nutrition policy experts at the Consumer Federation of America’s National Food Policy Conference in Washington, DC, last week.
“So,” she added, “we are listening and we are getting those requests and we are considering them, but that is about all I can say at this moment in time.”
One of the highest profile requests to delay the implementation of the Nutrition Facts Label changes, which includes a larger font for calories and a line calling out added sugars, came from 17 major food and beverage industry trade associations.
In a letter sent to the US Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Thomas Price, the trade groups asked the government to delay the deadline for the label changes until May 2021 and suggested that the change might be aligned with biotechnology disclosure labeling, which the US Department of Agriculture is mandated to finish by July 29, 2018.
Experts caution against linking Nutrition Facts and biotech label changes
Several industry experts at the conference agreed with the request to extend the deadline, but were less confident that tying the Nutrition Facts changes to the biotech disclosure rule is a good idea.
Richard Frank, a founding principal with OFW Law, said he supported pushing back the deadline because label changes are so expensive and it would be onerous on companies to expect them to make the Nutrition Facts label changes and then a few years later add GMO disclosure language to the label once USDA published the related rule.
“I think we should only have one label change because that is a billion dollars per change. Those are dollars that are passed on to consumers who need to buy food. So, if you only have one change it is $1 billion, but if you have two, it is $2 billion,” he said.
That said, he had reservations about tying the two changes together.
“God knows when we will see GMO final regulation. I know Congress set a date, but Congress sets lots of dates and they are not always followed,” he said.
Michael Jacobson, co-founder and President of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, agreed that linking the Nutrition Facts changes to the GMO labeling “means it could languish perhaps forever because we have no idea if GMO labeling is going to happen, or how many years it will take to develop legislation.”
He also suggested that while the timing for the changes to the Nutrition Facts panel would be tight, he believes it is possible – especially given that some companies already have the changes in place.
Former industry veteran Joseph Levitt, a partner at Hogan Lovells, does not see a problem with linking the two changes, as long as it is done in a way that pushes USDA to advance the GMO labeling rather than slow down the FDA labeling changes.
"It is okay to sync them up, but one should not wait for the other. One should be accelerated so the two can come together in a reasonable time because of the cost it generates," he said. But, he also noted, “FDA probably was a little unrealistic when it first set the two-year deadline,” and suggested a delay might be appropriate.
Mayne did not indicate if or when FDA would comment on the requests.