FDA Labeling Rules Are A Consumer Victory; Allowing Functional Food Labeling Levels Playing Field, GMA Says

WASHINGTON, Dec. 18 /PRNewswire/ -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today moved a step closer to providing American consumers with more and better label information about their foods by adopting the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) standard for food advertising, according to the Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA).

Under the FDA's new Consumer Health Information Initiative, consumers will also have expanded nutrition choices as the FDA has made it easier for food companies to inform consumers about the health benefits of a wide variety of foods.

The FDA will now use the standard of the "reasonable consumer" to evaluate food label claims -- a right long denied to food manufacturers. This FDA policy shift brings the agency's food claim evaluation in line with the FTC's 20 years of oversight experience using this same standard for advertising claims. Additionally, the FDA will allow food companies to include appropriate health claims on foods that may provide well recognized nutritional or health benefits, as is common practice for manufacturers of dietary supplements.

As a result of the initiative, food manufacturers will now be able to petition the FDA to use health claims already approved for dietary supplements. These health claims will be required to meet guidelines set forth by the FDA and will be overseen by a FDA Task Force on Consumer Health Information.

"Today's decision helps level the playing field for manufacturers, but ultimately, it is a victory for American consumers looking for foods that can be truly beneficial to their health," said GMA CEO and President C. Manly Molpus. "Consumers will now have the opportunity to receive better and more informative claims, to easily compare the benefits of a wide variety of foods, and to make more informed decisions about their nutritional choices."

Under the Food and Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1984, the FDA is authorized to approve the use of a claim about health benefits of certain nutrients in labeling food and dietary supplements if there is "significant scientific agreement" that the claim is supported by scientific evidence.

In the case Pearson vs. Shalala, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia held that dietary supplement manufacturers could make health claims for dietary fiber and antioxidant (linked to cancer prevention) and omega-3 fatty acids (beneficial in preventing coronary heart disease), among other claims. However, since conventional and functional foods were not a part of the case, FDA has until now refused to allow those manufacturers the same rights under Pearson vs. Shalala, even though Congress granted those rights as part of the Dietary Health and Education Act of 1994.

"Our foods have long since moved beyond meeting only the basic dietary needs of American consumers. The FDA's action has opened the door for food companies to improve labeling statements and health claims that are important to consumer choice," said GMA Director of Scientific and Regulatory Policy Alison Kretser. "This decision will now allow food manufacturers to inform consumers about the health benefits of their foods and to develop new products to meet consumer demand."

GMA has long supported such changes to the FDA's food labeling rules. In petitions filed with the FDA, GMA and its member companies called on FDA to use the "reasonable consumer" standard and to permit expanded use of health claims as given to dietary supplement manufacturers. GMA and its member companies will continue to pursue improved health claim guidelines and rules for food manufacturers.

GMA is the world's largest association of food, beverage and consumer product companies. With U.S. sales of more than $460 billion, GMA members employ more than 2.5 million workers in all 50 states. The organization applies legal, scientific and political expertise from its member companies to vital food, nutrition and public policy issues affecting the industry. Led by a board of 42 Chief Executive Officers, GMA speaks for food and consumer product manufacturers and sales agencies at the state, federal and international levels on legislative and regulatory issues. The association also leads efforts to increase productivity, efficiency and growth in the food, beverage and consumer products industry.

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