On January 25, 2017, the nonprofit science group, Union of Concerned Scientists, filed a citizen petition with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”), urging the FDA to prohibit foods with high amounts of added sugars from being labeled or advertised as nutritious or healthy. The petition is open for public comment until July 25, 2017.

The petition seeks amendments to current FDA regulations on the nutrient and health content claims for packaged foods to include a “disqualifying level” for added sugar, over which foods may no longer use “healthy” labeling or ads. This would be in line with the disqualifying levels already put in place by the FDA for total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium. The petition describes “disqualifying level” as an amount of added sugar that exceeds an FDA-determined percent of calories per serving. The petition, however, does not suggest a specific disqualifying amount or level.

The petition cites to existing U.S. government guidance, such as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (“USDA”) joint 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (“dietary guidelines”), as well as international organization standards, such as the World Health Organization’s nutrition recommendations, to claim that there is a clear link between high added-sugar intake and increased health risks. Further, the petition states that the lack of any “disqualifying level” for added sugars labeling and advertising sends consumers mixed messages about the actual risks associated with the consumption of high added-sugars.

The petition focuses in particular on the health risks to children who consume high levels of added sugars, stating that these children have an increased chance of obesity. The petition also points out how consumers may be misled into thinking that foods with high levels of added sugars are actually healthy. For example, the petition states that the least healthy cereals marketed to children often have the highest number of healthy claims on their labels and packages.

The petition comes after the FDA revised its Nutrition Labeling standards to require the labeling of added sugars on nutrition labels, in response to the revised HHS and USDA joint dietary guidelines, which advised consumers to consume no more than 10 percent of their daily calories from added sugars.

Manufacturers must revise their food labeling by July 26, 2018 to comply with the Nutrition Labeling standards that were passed last year.[1] Manufacturers who have not yet updated their labeling should consider whether to wait until the end of this year to see whether this citizen petition impacts the requirements. The petition is just part of the FDA’s greater reassessment of “healthy” claim labeling, which we will continue to follow. Please check back for updates.

[1] However, manufacturers with less than $10 million in annual food sales will have an additional year to comply.