Catalyst Summer 2015


Who’s Fighting the Proposal to Label Added Sugar?

Nutrition label

By Pallavi Phartiyal

Responding to the latest advances in nutrition science, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed last year to update the Nutrition Facts label that appears on all food packaging by including a new line listing the amount of “added sugars”—that is, sugar that does not naturally derive from the other ingredients. Because an estimated 74 percent of packaged foods contain added sugars, including many “unsweet” products such as soup and crackers, American diets frequently include far more sugar than consumers realize.

In addition to sugar’s established role in causing tooth decay, a growing body of scientific research now finds evidence of a causal relationship between excessive sugar consumption and obesity, as well as serious chronic diseases including diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Some 25.8 million Americans are already afflicted with type 2 diabetes, and 16 million suffer from heart disease. Scientists, public health experts, and leading health and science-based organizations including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Heart Association, the World Health Organization, and UCS overwhelmingly support the FDA’s proposal to amend the Nutrition Facts label.

Inspecting Food Industry Opposition

To learn who was opposing the change and why, UCS analyzed the public comments submitted to the FDA on the proposal. During the public comment period, from March 3 to August 1, 2014, the FDA received 35,507 submissions—nearly all in favor of the new label. A vast majority (more than 23,000) came from UCS members and supporters, while another 11,574 came from other individuals including academic experts. Not surprisingly, almost all of the fewer than 1,000 comments voicing opposition came from the food industry.

UCS determined that many of these industry comments contained serious distortions of the science pertaining to sugar and human health. For example, the Grocery Manufacturers Association erroneously stated, “Because there is scant evidence to support the idea that added sugar contributes to ill health, providing this information in a nutrition label will not help aid consumers in maintaining a healthy diet [emphasis added].” A comment from General Mills incorrectly asserted that, “Scientific consensus groups have found difficulty in determining any relationship between added sugars intake and health outcomes.”

Aside from these blatant distortions of science, the UCS study found hard evidence that corroborates the following statement by pediatric endocrinologist Robert Lustig (author of the best-selling book Fat Chance): “The only ones opposed to limiting and labeling added sugar are the ones putting it in our food."

Pallavi Phartiyal is senior analyst and program manager for the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. The FDA public comment analysis presented here was conducted by Abbie Steiner, a food policy research assistant at the Union of Concerned Scientists in 2014, as part of her graduate research at Tufts University.