The Sugar Association updates its sweetener labeling petition after 2 years of regulatory inaction

Diving Brief:

  • The Sugar Association has sent an additional petition to the FDA asking the government to require more transparency in the labeling of alternative sweeteners in products. The group calls for manufacturers to be required to clearly disclose which ingredients are sweeteners, to include information on the front of the package regarding the sweeteners included for products that make low or no sugar claims, to have calorie information if calorie reduction is not significant and to disclose gastrointestinal effects. combined with alternative sweeteners.
  • The group filed a similar petition in June 2020. The petition appeared on Regulations.gov about a month later, and has received over 200 public comments to date. An interim response came from the FDA on November 30, 2020, indicating that the department was still working on the matter due to other priorities and staffing shortages. No further responses were received.
  • As consumers seek to reduce their sugar intake and manufacturers seek to improve the amount of sugars on their nutrition facts labels, alternative sweeteners are becoming increasingly popular. These sweeteners have less recognizable names for average consumers.

Overview of the dive:

More than a year and a half after the Sugar Association filed its initial petition with the FDA, a lot has changed within the agency, namely a new president and another FDA administrator, who was just confirmed last month.

In the food and beverage space, there has also been a lot of action in terms of alternative sweeteners. Since the Sugar Association’s petition was filed, 2,318 new products using alternative sweeteners have been introduced in the United States, according to Mintel statistics referenced in the updated petition. This represents a 300% growth in the prevalence of alternative sweeteners in foods over the past five years, the petition states.

The last year and a half has also seen great progress in the development and use of alternative sweeteners. Demand for allulose, a close relative of naturally occurring sugar with 90% fewer calories, has skyrocketed. Since allulose is metabolized differently from sugar, it is not necessary to include it in the total sugars on an ingredient label. Ingredion has partnered with synthetic biology company Amyris to commercialize Rebaudioside M – the closest component to the naturally occurring sugar in stevia – made by fermentation. Through a partnership with biotech player Conagen, Sweegen recently made brazzeine, a rare calorie-free sugar naturally found in the African fruit of oblivion, available to manufacturers. And Hershey has partnered with sweetener maker Bonumose, funding its $27.7 million plant expansion to market rare sugars, including tagatose, and create low-sugar candy for the confectioner. .

The Sugar Association argues in both the original petition and the one filed today that consumers want to know when there are alternative sweeteners in products. Industry Group Research as of 2020, 76% of people want to know when foods contain sugar substitutes. Two-thirds think sugar substitutes should be clearly identified as sweeteners on food labels. Currently, fewer than four out of 10 could correctly identify sweeteners from an ingredient list.

“It’s the Wild West in the grocery aisle when it comes to labeling sugar substitutes, with confused consumers kept in the dark or left guessing what artificial sweeteners are in the foods they buy and eat,” said P. Courtney, president and CEO of the Sugar Association. Gaine said in a written statement.

The FDA opened a similar question until comment in October 2020. The agency asked how best to address the labeling of sweeteners that are metabolized differently from sugar on food packaging. To date, 31 comments have been received on the question on Regulations.govbut no action was taken.

As the sweetener landscape evolves, now is the time for the FDA to make changes to labeling rules. Many CPG manufacturers are beginning the process of formulating products to utilize newly available alternatives. If changes are made to labeling rules, the sooner they are made, the better it will be for manufacturers, many of whom may need to make significant changes to their labels.

Rachel J. Bradford