On January 4th, 2011, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed into law. In 2016, the FDA announced the food label changes that would fall under this law. Though companies aren't required to be compliant until 2018, the new requirements are already causing concerns.

If you're not familiar with the new label changes, here are the big ones that are about to have some significant impacts on the industry: Vitamin A and C are no longer required to be listed, Vitamin D and potassium must be listed, the label must include "added sugars," and a percent daily value for added sugars must be listed. 

Many hoped that this updated information would more accurately reflect what nutrition science is telling us about health. The new label is supposed to help fight obesity and other related diseases

Food Analysis

sweet, cream
Aakanksha Joshi

From a nutrition standpoint, the new labels may make a lot of sense. However, to the people who must analyze food components to ensure accurate labeling, these new laws may be causing more controversy than solutions. 

While the proposed ruling was open for public comment, many food companies expressed their concerns over the new added sugar requirement. There is currently no chemical method of analysis to distinguish natural sugars from added sugars in a product.

Similar concerns exist for the Vitamin D requirement. All approved analytical tests are time-consuming, labor intensive, and require someone to be heavily trained on the equipment with extreme attention to detail.  

Obviously, some companies have been analyzing Vitamin D content and it's possible to calculate added sugar content by calculating the sugar of each individual ingredient. But when these tests must be done frequently for quality assurance purposes, it becomes costly and time-consuming. Food analysis is not a one and done procedure done for the label. Companies must constantly test their products to assure the contents match the label. 

What Is An Added Sugar?

chocolate, cake, pastry, marmalade, cream, berry, strawberry, sweet, gelatin, jam
Aakanksha Joshi

There is a growing concern that the new food labels could be misleading. For example, under the new law, 100% not from concentrate fruit juice is considered natural. 100% fruit juice from concentrate, whether or not it contains additional sugar, would be considered an added sugar. 

There is also little scientific evidence to suggest that the body reacts to added and natural sugar differently. Additonally, studies have shown that most consumers are still confused about the definition of an added sugar.

Misleading Consumers

coffee, wine, beer
Hana Ezaldein

While knowing the amount of added sugar in a product can be helpful in making smart decisions, many consumers don't consider the context of sugars when comparing labels. 

In studies conducted by General Mills and supported by the International Food Information Council, consumers had a hard time identifying the amount of sugar in products with the new label. 92% of people were able to correctly identify the amount of sugar in a product with the old label compared to just 66% with the new label. 

Some people thought products with added sugars had more sugars than were actually there. The North American Meat Institute points out that when comparing labels, a consumer may be confused about what choice to make. If one product had 20 total grams of sugar while another had 5 added but 15 total grams, it could be unclear as to which choice is better. 

Education and Communication

cookie, cake, chocolate, pastry, bread, sweet
Torey Walsh

The two things every food issue seems to come back to are proper education and communication. Consumers expect so much from food companies and regulatory bodies. It's important for both sides to communicate their interests so we as consumers receive the kinds of products we want to eat. 

The new label will affect how food companies function economically, analytically, and affect how they formulate their products. The hopes are that the given time to become compliant have given them enough time to rework their business structures.

It's also not enough to just give consumers new food labels. They must understand how to read and interpret them. Consumers have to understand that "health" is much bigger than the serving size, mineral content, or amount of added sugar in a product. You, not the label, are the only one who can decide if a product is right for you.