Following up on their Guidance regarding use of the term “Healthy” in food labeling (you can find it here), the Food and Drug Administration will hold a public hearing in Washington on March 9 to give interested parties an opportunity to discuss the meaning of the word “healthy” in the labelling of human food products.  The announcement for meeting is here, along with a link to register and get your seat or also register to attend via telecast.

More importantly, the FDA has also extended the comment period for its request for information and comments to April 26, 2017, allowing industry stakeholders, academics, citizens and other interested parties a lengthier opportunity to make submissions.  And you may want to as the FDA is seeking citizen input on a host of issues that you may find important enough to address through a written comment:

  • Is the term “healthy” most appropriately categorized as a claim based only on nutrient content? If not, what other criteria (e.g., inclusion of foods from specific food categories) would be appropriate to consider in defining the term “healthy” for use in food labeling?
  • If criteria other than nutrient content (e.g., amount of whole grain) are to be included in the definition of the term “healthy,” how might we determine whether foods labeled “healthy” comply with such other criteria for bearing the claim?
  • What types of food, if any, should be allowed to bear the term “healthy?” Should all food categories be subject to the same criteria? Please provide details of your reasoning.
  • Is “healthy” the best term to characterize foods that should be encouraged to build healthy dietary practices or patterns? What other words or terms might be more appropriate (e.g., “nutritious”)? We encourage submission of any studies or data related to descriptors used to communicate the overall healthfulness of a food product.
  • What nutrient criteria should be considered for the definition of the term “healthy?” Should nutrients for which intake is recommended to be limited be included? Should nutrients for which intake is encouraged continue to be included?
  • If nutrients for which intake is encouraged are included in the definition, should these nutrients be restricted to those nutrients whose recommended intakes are not met by the general population, or should they include those nutrients that contribute to general overall health? Should the nutrients be intrinsic to the foods, or could they be provided in part—or in total—via fortification? Please provide details of your reasoning and provide any supportive data or information.
  • Are there current dietary recommendations (e.g., the Dietary Guidelines for Americans) or nutrient intake requirements, such as those described in the final rule updating the Nutrition Facts label (see 81 FR 33742; May 27, 2016) or those provided by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in the form of Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) (http://www.nationalacademies.org/hmd/Activities/Nutrition/SummaryDRIs/DRI-Tables.aspx), that should be reflected in criteria for use of the term “healthy?”
  • What are the public health benefits, if any, of defining the term “healthy” or other similar terms in food labeling? Please include any data or research related to public health benefits in your reasoning.
  • What is consumers’ understanding of the meaning of the term “healthy” as it relates to food? What are consumers’ expectations of foods that carry a “healthy” claim? We are especially interested in any data or other information that evaluates whether or not consumers associate, confuse, or compare the term “healthy” with other descriptive terms and claims.
  • Would this change in the term “healthy” cause a shift in consumer behavior in terms of dietary choices? For example, would it cause a shift away from purchasing or consuming fruits and vegetables that do not contain a “healthy” claim and towards purchasing or consuming processed foods that bear this new “healthy” claim?
  • How will the food industry and consumers regard a change in the definition of “healthy?”
  • What would be the costs to industry of the change?

Full instructions along with further information on where/how/what can be found in the request for information here.

The sheer industry that has become false advertising litigation over labeling terms like “healthy” or “natural” compels all parties to this debate to get involved and establish labeling standards that will provide clear guidance to manufacturers, authorities and consumers so that everyone can rest assured that when language is used, we know what is meant.

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