FDA Grants Additional Time for Citizens (and Food Companies) to Define ‘Healthy’

Coral Beach

Last year, Kind LLC filed a "citizen petition" with the Food and Drug Administration urging the agency to update their definition of healthy.

Don't miss the special, extra-length issue of In These Times devoted entirely to the subject of socialism in America today. This special issue is available now. Order your copy today for just $5.00, shipping included.

Four months wasn’t long enough for some in the food industry to figure out how they want the FDA to define healthy” for use on food labels, so the agency has extended the comment deadline on the topic for another three months.

The Food and Drug Administration’s deadline for public comments on the topic is now April 26, which is a month longer than at least one extension request sought.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association asked that the January 26 deadline be extended to March 26, citing year-end activities and holiday scheduling as part of the reason it needed more than four months to develop and submit comments.

Another food industry group, the United Egg Producers, was able to make the original deadline with its comments on what the word healthy” means. Currently eggs cannot be labeled as healthy” because of their cholesterol and saturated fat content. But the egg group, which says it represents producers of 95 percent of U.S. shell eggs, contends federal dietary guidelines support the healthy” value of their product.

Eggs are included in all three model diets outlined in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” the egg group reminded FDA in its comments.

The United Egg Producers and the Grocery Manufacturers Association are just two of the more than 700 entities and individuals to file comments on the topic of healthy” as of Thursday. The vast majority of comments appear to be from individuals, many of whom have suggested common sense definitions, such as healthy should mean it’s good for your body.”

That’s the kind of definition FDA wants to make sure is not used. The agency wants to put a finer point on it, partly because of push back from the food industry on existing federal law concerning the use of the word healthy” on food labels.

Who got this ball rolling? 

In its initial September 2016 notice opening the comment period on the use of healthy” on food labels, the FDA referenced that a citizen petition” filed with the agency was part of the reason behind opening the discussion. What FDA did not explain in that notice was that the citizen petition” was filed by granola bar maker KIND LLC of New York.

The 31-page petition from KIND, filed in December 2015, followed a March 2015 warning from FDA that challenged label language then used on several of KIND’s fruit and grain bars.

According to the FDA’s warning letter to KIND LLC:

”… the product labels bear nutrient content claims, but the products do not meet the requirements to make such claims.” 

Specifically, FDA noted that four different flavors of KIND bars carried the word healthy” on their labels in violation of federal law. The saturated fat content of the KIND bars ranged from double to four times the maximum amount allowed on foods that use the word healthy” on labeling.

Thirteen months after sending the warning letter, the FDA sent KIND LLC a closeout letter in April 2016.

Based on our evaluation, we conclude that you have satisfactorily addressed the violations contained in the Warning Letter. Future FDA inspections and regulatory activities will further assess the adequacy and sustainability of these corrections,” the FDA stated in the closeout letter.

While the healthy” debate regarding those specific KIND bars appears to be ended, the process of redefining the word will likely take years.

In its petition seeking FDA’s review of the word, KIND LLC stated the current law is based on obsolete science and that FDA has applied it incorrectly.

According to the KIND petition:

FDA formulated those regulations more than 20 years ago, when available science and federal dietary recommendations focused on limiting total fat intake…”

Today, these regulations still require that the majority of foods featuring a healthy’ nutrient content claim meet low fat’ and low saturated fat’ standards regardless of their nutrient density. This is despite the fact that current science no longer supports those standards…

… FDA has taken an overly broad approach that effectively prohibits the use of terms such as healthy’ about certain foods that inherently do not meet FDA’s strict nutrient content claim requirements, even though healthy’ claims could be readily used in a way that is not misleading to consumers.” 

The agency seemed to agree with some points in the KIND petition, stating in September 2016 that it was seeking comment on use of the word healthy” as part of its efforts to update regulations.

This action is consistent with our recently released 2016-2025 Foods and Veterinary Medicine Program’s strategic plan with specific goals for nutrition and other planned and recent activity including the issuance of final rules updating certain of our nutrition labeling regulations,” FDA’s September notice stated.

We invite public comment on the term healthy,’ generally, and as a nutrient content claim in the context of food labeling and on specific questions contained in this (notice).”

How to file comments

To submit comments via the Internet, click here. Comments submitted online will be posted for public viewing.

For directions on how to submit confidential comments, click here. Confidential comments cannot be submitted online.

To submit comments by mail, hand delivery or courier, use this address:

Division of Dockets Management (HFA-305),

Food and Drug Administration

5630 Fishers Lane, Room 1061

Rockville, MD 20852

All comments must include the Docket No. FDA-2016-D-2335.

FDA allows more time for comments on healthy’ food labels” was orginially published on food​safe​tynews​.com and is reposted on Rural America In These Times with permission from the author.

[If you like what you’ve read, help us spread the word. Like” Rural America In These Times on Facebook. Click on the Like Page” button below the bear on the upper right of your screen. Also, follow RAITT on Twitter @RuralAmericaITT]
For a limited time:

Donate $20 or more to In These Times and we'll send you a copy of Let This Radicalize You.

In this new book, longtime organizers and movement educators Mariame Kaba and Kelly Hayes examine the political lessons of the Covid-19 pandemic and its aftermath, including the convergence of mass protest and mass formations of mutual aid. Let This Radicalize You answers the urgent question: What fuels and sustains activism and organizing when it feels like our worlds are collapsing?

We've partnered with the publisher, Haymarket Books, and 100% of your donation will go towards supporting In These Times.

Coral Beach is a print journalist with more than 30 years experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers and trade publications including the Kansas City Star, the Independence Examiner and the St. Joseph News-Press & Gazette. A Jayhawk by birth and education, Beach earned a bachelor’s of science in journalism from the University of Kansas. She enjoys playing trumpet in a community concert band and shares her childhood home in Kansas City with her sister Sandy Beach.
Get 10 issues for $19.95

Subscribe to the print magazine.