Feb. 7, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Nutrition Facts Label May Take a Hard Line on Sugar

Courtesy Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0)
Recent concerns about sugar’s role in contributing to disease led to the FDA’s plan to add a new line to nutrition labels that keeps tabs on added sugar.

Earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration unveiled a revamped Nutrition Facts label for food packages, proposing changes to the iconic white box for the first time since it was adopted 20 years ago.

Among the adjustments: a bolder calorie display, a line for vitamin D and potassium, and updates to the “reference amounts customarily consumed,” upon which serving sizes are based.

Of the changes proposed for the now-trusted label, none has prompted more scrutiny than a new line noting “added sugars” in products.

Nutritionists and some public interest groups have applauded the change, stressing the increasing evidence that links added or artificial sugars to obesity and all manner of metabolic disease. Drawing consumer attention to these added sugars, they say, could result in better choices in the grocery aisle and in better health.

But the food industry knows the little white label is probably the most valuable real estate on a package, and a tiny line for added sugars wields big power — and means potentially big problems for manufacturers.

The industry has, especially in recent years, added more sugars to many products to compensate for lowered fat in a multitude of processed foods. But it has long relied on sugar to woo consumers, something critics say the industry has tried to obscure for decades. Congress, too, has played a role in the sweetener landscape, critics say, by lavishing subsidies on corn and sugar producers, driving up production of both the sugar and high fructose corn syrup that end up in thousands of products.

When the new label was introduced, the industry immediately protested that the “added sugars” line would mislead consumers and has no basis in science.

“We have serious concerns about selective dietary guidance,” Andrew Briscoe, president of the Sugar Association, said at a recent public meeting. “There’s not a preponderance of science, as required by law, to support the added sugars declaration.”

Broader Worries About Sugar

The agency’s decision to include the added sugars line comes amid broader concerns over sugar’s role in disease — and a series of public relations drubbings in recent months.

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