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FDA Forward Momentum on “Healthy” Claims Continues

Do you produce food that you promote – or wish to promote – as “Healthy”? Do you have thoughts on the type of symbol that could be used to convey “healthy”? Would you like to provide input on the research FDA plans to conduct to determine consumer perspectives?

FDA is continuing to move forward on the development of a proposed rule that would update when manufacturers may use the “healthy” nutrient content claim on food packages. Most recently, FDA published a procedural notice seeking comment on consumer research on “healthy” symbol. And if you have any stake in the game, you have less than three weeks (by July 6) to make your voice heard.

Because this procedural notice is simply to inform the public of the consumer research FDA will be conducting and gather relevant insights that could enhance the quality, usefulness, and clarity of the information to be collected, FDA is looking for comment on:

  1. Whether the proposed collection of information is necessary for the proper performance of FDA’s functions, including whether the information will have practical utility;
  2. The accuracy of FDA’s estimate of the burden of the proposed collection of information, including the validity of the methodology and assumptions used;
  3. Ways to enhance the quality, utility, and clarity of the information to be collected; and
  4. Ways to minimize the burden of the collection of information on respondents, including automated collection techniques, when appropriate, and other forms of information technology.

It’s not FDA’s first attempt to gather comment on Healthy labeling from the industry or consumers – as FDA issued a Request for Information and Comments on the use of the term “Healthy” in the labeling of human food products back in September of 2016. And it won’t be the last as the eventual development of a rule will also need to undergo a comment period. But any food business with any stake in the “Healthy” labeling game is highly advised to follow the process and progress of FDA’s related activities, and make comment wherever applicable. While the final rule may not be exactly what you’d wish regardless, your perspectives will at least have been taken into account.

Modernizing food claims is one of the key elements of FDA’s Nutrition Innovation Strategy (NIS), with “Healthy" being a claim that FDA “believes is ready for change,” thus its goal to update criteria for the claim, as well as how to depict it on the package so consumers can easily find and understand it. While the NIS is also not new, having been announced in March of 2018 to “take a fresh look at what can be done to reduce preventable death and disease related to poor nutrition,” FDA is continuously taking action to implement the strategy.

Just this week, FDA issued a final rule to amend and modernize the standard of identity for yogurt. by allowing for greater flexibilities and technological advances in yogurt production. While stated a being a part of the NIS, FDA’s New Era of Smarter Food Safety Blueprint is evidenced as well, as technology is a key component of that initiative, and of FDA’s current activities in general.

With such initiatives being brought to the forefront of FDA, it truly seems that the activity lull of COVID-19 is on the rebound, and it is an endeavor of which the food industry needs to take note. Although food producers can continue to use the term “healthy" on foods that meet the current regulatory definition while FDA considers how to redefine the term, and the symbol being discussed would be voluntary for applicable packaged food products, there is a rule in the making that will, in all probability, have some very specific requirements. So staying updated on FDA’s activities and ensuring you understand the impetus behind any “healthy” claims currently being made on your products will significantly benefit you in the long run.