The Sustainable Food Policy Alliance submitted the following comments for consideration by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regarding the agency’s Comprehensive, Multi-Year Nutrition Innovation Strategy.
Dear Commissioner Gottlieb:
As member companies of the Sustainable Food Policy Alliance (SFPA), Danone North America, Mars, Incorporated, Nestlé USA, and Unilever United States are pleased to submit these comments to the Food and Drug Administration in response to your request for comments on the agency’s Comprehensive, Multi-Year Nutrition Innovation Strategy.
SFPA recognizes the role the food industry can and should play in advancing nutrition. SFPA member companies make a wide range of foods that support healthy, balanced lives. We continue to increase nutrient density, lower calorie counts per serving size across the diverse range of our products, and update our packaging to contain smaller portions.
We are committed to taking an industry leadership role in helping consumers maintain a balanced diet and healthier lifestyle through product innovation, reformulation, reduced portion sizes, responsible marketing, and consumer information.
We believe policies that impact food businesses should also strive to improve people’s health. As we make progress on our efforts and set goals to do even more, we believe that FDA’s Nutrition Innovation Strategy offers a powerful opportunity to drive further change across the entire food industry.
- “Healthy” Icon. Backed by a strong, science-based definition, the term “healthy” is an incredibly powerful tool to communicate information about foods and beverages to consumers. We encourage FDA to think beyond a simple icon and consider a variety of communication formats where “healthy” concepts can be further developed and delivered in a broad education campaign. While we continue to work to improve the nutritional profile of all of our products, some of our products are indulgent options that should not be labeled as “healthy.”
- Claims and Statements Used on Food Labels. SFPA encourages FDA to revisit regulations for nutrient content claims and health claims to make the changes that are necessary to align with the Nutrition Facts Panel rules and dietary advice and foster innovation.
- Modernizing Standards of Identity. SFPA supports FDA modernizing existing standards of identity as there is a need for flexibility to include more healthful foods, keep pace with the evolving food landscape, and match changing consumer expectations, preferences and understanding of certain products.
- Ingredient List on Labels. SFPA urges FDA to allow for the use of common and usual ingredient names for specific ingredients that are more easily recognized by consumers, such as potassium salt instead of potassium chloride or Vitamin C instead of ascorbic acid.
- Nutrition Facts Label Consumer Education Campaign. SFPA suggests that FDA engage in public-private partnerships to deliver key messages that include focus on portion size, not only calories and serving size. We believe a robust and effective education campaign to help people understand the Nutrition Facts panel is important as we seek to empower consumers to make food choices that are right for them.
I. Healthy Icon
SFPA supports a comprehensive update of the definition of “healthy” to help people make the right food and beverage choices for themselves and their families – including science-based regulations on how “healthy” can be used on food and beverage packages. Many of our products help to make everyday meals healthier, simpler, and in many cases, more affordable. While we continue to work to improve the nutritional profile of all of our products, some of our products are indulgent options that should not be labeled as “healthy.”
The SFPA believes the definition of “healthy” should be based on the preponderance of scientific evidence, including recommendations from the most recently published Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), focus on incorporating food categories that build healthy eating patterns and limit negative nutrients. An updated definition of “healthy” would benefit consumers, and we support the actions of FDA to finalize the rulemaking process to update the criteria used to define the term.
Backed by a strong, science-based definition, the use of the word “healthy” on labels is an incredibly powerful tool to communicate information about foods and beverages to consumers. Therefore, SFPA believes FDA should finalize an updated definition of “healthy.” The revised definition of “healthy” and the types of foods and beverages that qualify will inform considerations for a variety of communication formats beyond an icon or symbol where “healthy” can be developed and delivered in a broad education campaign. We encourage FDA to review consumer behavior change models or published evidence on how symbols have been used in the past, what made them work or not, and how consumers have interpreted such symbols.
SFPA supports the concept that foods labeled as “healthy” should be nutrient dense and part of a healthy eating pattern as recommended by the DGA. SFPA also acknowledges the role of beverages, such as water, milk, 100% juice and unsweetened tea, in healthy dietary patterns and encourages FDA to establish criteria for how those products can be labeled as “healthy.”
The “healthy” definition should include limits on negative nutrients, including added sugar and added sodium. Naturally occurring sugars and sodium intrinsic to the foods that are part of a healthy eating pattern recommended by the DGA should be allowed in a definition of “healthy.” FDA should consider the role of nutrient dense foods and beverages where the DGA notes that average consumption lags recommended intake levels, including vegetables, fruits, dairy and whole grains.
FDA should consider a broad education campaign aimed at both children and adults on “Healthy Eating Patterns,” focusing on foods and meals rather than individual products or nutrients and including beverage choices, as well as portion sizes recommended for consumption.
II. Claims and Statements Used on Food Labels
SFPA member companies, and many others, use consumer insights to determine whether to use claims and other nutrition-related labeling statements on food and beverage products. For example, we consider such questions as:
- Do consumers want to see such a claim/statement on-pack and other forms of product communication?
- Do consumers understand the claim/statement?
- Is the claim/statement expressed in easy-to-understand language?
- What are the types of disclaiming statements that are required and will these be easy or difficult for consumers to understand?
- Does the product meet the criteria to make the claim/statement?
- Is the claim/statement an integral part of the brand position/identity?
- What is the intended use of the product/expected role in the diet (snack, main dish, etc.) and typical frequency of consumption?
- Is the claim appropriate for the product type? For example, it may be more appropriate to highlight an ice cream with “less saturated fat” or “less sugar” versus with “added calcium.”
Statements of fact conveying nutrition information on portion size recommended, and number of servings per day, as appropriate, would be helpful to facilitating product innovation and promoting healthful eating patterns, rather than focusing on the reference amount customarily consumed.
To serve the dual goal of facilitating product innovation and promoting healthful eating patterns that drive down consumption of certain nutrients of concern, it would be helpful to be able to make claims without the full reduction currently required by law such as “Now with 10% less sodium” (e.g., 10%, 15%, 20% reduction in [nutrient of concern] based on a comparative food). This would help to encourage consumer preference as companies reformulate and help shift consumer perception of the link between a certain reduction claim.
Short, easy to understand consumer claims/statements are the most helpful to consumers in selecting foods consistent with the recommendations from the DGA. Further, providing information about portion sizes and number of servings recommended per day that are recommended for consumption as per the DGA helps consumers think in terms of their entire daily diet pattern while staying within their daily caloric needsVisual charts such as what is found in the DGA that provide tips to “Empower People to Make Healthy Shifts” in their diets can also be helpful to consumers.
Regarding the FDA’s 2003 Interim Procedures for Qualified Health Claims, while many of the factors discussed in the guidance for prioritizing FDA’s review of qualified health claim petitions remain relevant, claims need to be more consumer friendly, shorter, and reflect not just reducing risk of disease, but other benefits that meet human needs (energy, cognitive performance, mood, etc.).
Lastly regarding claims on food labels, FDA did not propose amendments to regulations for nutrient content claims or health claims as part of the reform of the Nutrition Facts Panel rules. We encourage FDA to revisit regulations for nutrient content claims and health claims to make the changes that are necessary to align with the Nutrition Facts Panel rules.
III. Modernizing Standards of Identity
We support FDA modernizing existing standards of identity (SOI). There is a need for flexibility to include more healthful foods, keep pace with the advances in food science and technology, and match changing consumer expectations, preferences and understanding of certain products.
Many of the general principles proposed in 2005 for modernizing SOI still apply today and should be reviewed by FDA as a starting point for continued dialogue. The SFPA recommends FDA consider a horizontal regulatory approach to modernize food standards built off the existing framework in 21 CFR 130.10 for foods named by use of a nutrient content claim and a standardized term. Using this approach, the agency could establish additional stated boundaries in 21 CFR Part 130 wherein the SOI could be modified. As an example, the SOI framework could be modernized to allow the use of any safe and suitable ingredient as alternatives for those mandatory ingredients that have negative health implications such as added sugar and added sodium.
A well-designed regulation would allow for variations in food standards while maintaining the basic nature and essential characteristics of the food and allow manufacturers the ability to bring consumers a range of standardized foods with improved nutritional profiles. Such a regulation would continue to preserve honesty and fair dealing in the marketplace in the interest of consumers and could preserve agency resources.
SFPA acknowledges the additional process that FDA has invited comments on the use of the names of dairy foods in the labeling of plant-based products. We look forward to engaging on this and SOI for other foods as the agency moves forward to modernize the current SOI framework.
IV. Ingredient List on Labels
SFPA companies promote consumer-friendly and informative labeling. Consumers are interested in knowing more about food products and ingredients. SPFA companies are committed to providing easily accessible and meaningful ingredient information to help consumers make choices that meet their needs. Certain ingredients are not well understood by consumers and may limit healthier reformulation efforts. FDA can improve food labels to enhance consumer understanding of ingredients by doing the following:
- Include the option of using the common and usual names that are more consumer-friendly for the ingredient name. Responding favorably to two citizen petitions aimed at improving ingredient lists on labels will facilitate this as follows:
- Support online voluntary initiatives such as SmartLabelTM that can be used to provide more information in consumer-friendly language. Online formats enable the sharing of more information with consumers than is possible on many product labels.
V. Nutrition Facts Label Consumer Education Campaign
We strive to improve the quality and accessibility of information available to consumers about the food they purchase for themselves and their families. We will continue to encourage timely implementation of the new Nutrition Facts panel. We believe a robust and effective education campaign to help people understand the Nutrition Facts panel is important as we seek to empower consumers to make food choices that are right for them.
It is important that the educational efforts be developed and implemented as part of joint public and private efforts. We encourage FDA to engage in public-private partnerships to educate at grassroots levels. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) MyPlate National Strategic Partner program provides an example of one such partnership. Further, FDA should collaborate with health professionals to generate and tailor messages to communities of different socio-economic status. We suggest that FDA work on developing content and partner with public health agencies, non-profit consumer education groups, and industry to develop messages that can have broader reach. Consumer education should focus on portion size and number of servings of foods, beverages, and meals within a healthy eating pattern, rather than education around calories and serving size only. USDA’s MyPlate or other visual cues of portion sizes could be valuable assets in this regard.
As part of its comprehensive, multi-year nutrition innovation strategy, FDA should also consider how Reference Amounts Customarily Consumed (RACCs) can be updated to encourage people to follow the dietary patterns recommended by the DGA.
As the Sustainable Food Policy Alliance, our collective commitment to developing a range of nutrition transparency initiatives demonstrates our commitment to being a productive, collaborative partner with FDA and other food policy stakeholders on these important issues. We appreciate the opportunity to submit these comments to FDA regarding the agency’s Comprehensive, Multi-Year Nutrition Innovation Strategy. We hope that your agency will consider our Sustainable Food Policy Alliance as a resource as you move forward.