Welcome to part two of the Beyond the Basics Food: Safety, Supply & Sustainability conference that was held February 21 at the Edina Country Club.
After a short break it was time for our second speaker of the day, Brenda Jacob, RDN, MPD, LD. Brenda is a Labeling Manager at Land O’Lakes. Her presentation, “Making Sense of Changes in Food Label Information” was extremely helpful in breaking down the very complicated world of labeling!
She began by explaining the rulemaking process for label changes: Congress passes a law and directs agency (FDA/USDA) to create regulations –> Agency then publishes Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) in the Federal Register. This is when the notice/comment process begins —> Individuals/Groups can post comments (these can come from ANYONE) –>Agency proposes rule/regulation. She noted that this is a very long process and takes years. The new nutrition label process started in 2016 with a compliance date of 2018. In 2017 that date was extended to January 2020. However, food companies were concerned about food waste so they were granted an extension to July 2020 so they were able to sell food products with the old label already printed.
So why did we need a new food label? The new label reflects updated scientific information (link between diet, chronic disease and public health), the updated serving size reflects amount of food people actually consume, and the new format draws attention to calories and serving size. There are several changes to daily values including increases for: total fat, fiber, calcium, potassium, vitamin C and vitamin D and decreases for: carbohydrates, sodium, and vitamin A. There is a new addition of “added sugars” which has been a challenge to food producers. The daily value for added sugars is 50 g per day. Added sugars is defined as: added during processing or packaged as such; includes free, mono- and disaccharides, sugars from syrups, honey, & concentrated fruit or vegetable juices. Naturally occurring sugars (e.g., dairy products, whole fruits and vegetables) is not considered added sugar . The challenge? Analysis cannot differentiate total sugar from added sugar and record keeping is required to verify labeled added sugars.
Brenda then went into a discussion of bioengineered (BE) and Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) labeling. Many think bioengineered is the same as GMO but it is not. The USDA defines bioengineered as: “contains genetic material that has been modified through in-vitro recombinant DNA and for which the modification could not otherwise be obtained through conventional breeding or found in nature.” The term GMO has a more broad definition and includes anything that has had its genes altered, including by nature, such as plants or animals. BE labeling disclosure is required for BE food or foods that contain BE food ingredients. Any highly refined foods (e.g., sugar, oils, food starch) or ingredients that do not contain detectable modified genetic material are not considered BE. The list of BE foods include: alfalfa, some apple varieties, canola, corn, cotton, some eggplant varieties, some papaya varieties, some pineapple varieties, potato, some salmon varieties, soybean, summer squash and sugarbeets. Labeling is mandatory for items on the BE food list or known BE + detectable rDNA. Labeling is voluntary for itmes from the BE food list with no detectable rDNA or highly refined ingredients from BE food list: oils, sugars, modified food starch. Food items that are exempt from labeling include: organic, incidental additives, animal products (meat, poultry, milk, eggs), animal feed, or below 5% threshold for adventitious presence. Simple, right? NO!
Brenda gave a great example of where confusion can lie. Where an ingredient lies in the ingredient list determines whether labeling is mandatory, voluntary, or exempt! A soup with order of ingredients: broth, corn, chicken, etc. is subject to BE disclosure because chicken is 3rd ingredient- not the second after broth. However–soup with chicken as 2nd ingredient (broth, chicken, corn, etc.) is exempt from BE disclosure. Another example was breaded chicken nuggets with ingredients of chicken breast, breadcrumbs (wheat flour, corn flour, etc.) is not subject to BE disclosure because chicken is the most predominant ingredient- it doesn’t matter if corn flour is from BE corn.
The last section of her presentation was about Standards of Identity (SOI). SOI includes required and optional ingredients, may specify manufacturing procedures, may include added nutrients and amounts, and may include specific methods of analysis. There are 280 SOI foods (37% of the foods are dairy items!). They were established in the 1938 Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act. The purpose of SOI is to promote honesty and fair dealing in the interest of consumers, prevent food fraud (must meet minimum level of a valuable ingredient), to create a “level playing field” for food producers, ensure products meet consumers’ nutritional and expectations/needs. A food is deemed misbranded if it does not conform to the definition and standard or it must be labeled “imitation”. In March 2018 the FDA determined modernizing SOIs as an important step to update for technology advancements, promote innovation and provide flexibility to produce more healthful foods.
Brenda acknowledged that these new labeling regulations are likely to cause some confusion among consumers. For instance, right now the old label and the new label can be found on products on shelves until July 2020. One might grab a pint of ice cream and see two different serving sizes and think one is more “healthy” than the other. She closed with saying that as consumers are now less familiar with agricultural practices, it’s becoming more important to help consumers know “what is in my food”. It is our role as food and consumer science professionals to help!