Sugar Association files citizen petition calling for clearer labelling of sweeteners

13 Jul 2020

The Sugar Association has filed a US citizen petition to require manufacturers to add front-of-pack disclosures regarding the use of non-nutritive sweeteners – but sweetener suppliers say ingredient lists already give consumers clear information.

Trade group the Sugar Association filed a citizen petition to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) this month requesting several changes to the country’s labelling laws.

Sugar Association files citizen petition calling for clearer labelling of sweeteners

Although manufacturers must already label any sweeteners used in food or drink products on the ingredients list, the Sugar Association argues that many consumers are unfamiliar with names such as aspartame, saccharin, acesulfame potassium, sucralose, steviol glycosides, or lou han guo, also known as monk fruit. It therefore wants manufacturers to add the word ‘sweetener’ in brackets after the ingredient name.

The petition also requested that any product making a low-, no- or reduced-sugar claim must state ‘sweetened with [name of sweetener]’ beneath the sugar content claim. According to the trade group, the need for this action has become “critical” since the FDA published the new Nutrition Facts label in 2016, which required manufacturers to label the amount of added sugar. This led a sharp rise in the number of high-calorie products making misleading reduced sugar claims sugar, it said.

“We know that 67% of consumers think a product containing a ‘zero sugar’ or ‘no added sugar’ claim is healthier than the original, and 70% believe the new product has fewer calories than the original,” said Courtney Gaine, president and CEO of the Association. “However, a leading brand of peanut butter claiming to have less sugar has more calories per serving than the company’s regular peanut butter.

“In another case, a manufacturer attempts to justify a reduced sugar claim by decreasing the portion size of the lower sugar version of its regular product. It is hard to say such practices are not misleading.

The petition also urged the FDA to require manufacturers using certain sugar alcohols to warn consumers of possible gastrointestinal distress in children and adults. This disclosure is a legal requirement in the Europe Union where products that contain more than 10% polyols, such as erythritol or xylitol in chewing gum, must bear the warning ‘Excessive consumption may produce laxative effects’.

A recent 1,000-strong survey conducted by Quadrant Strategies on behalf of The Sugar Association found that only 37% of consumers were able to correctly identify sweeteners in a list of food additives.

However, the Brussels-headquartered International Sweetener Association said the legal requirement to list any sweetener on a food’s ingredient list ensured that consumers have “a clear and visible means” to see if a food contains a low or no calorie sweetener.

The Calorie Control Council, a trade association representing the low- and reduced-calorie food and beverage industry, said it was conducting a thorough review of the Sugar Association’s petition. A spokesperson said that countless health authorities have warned against health risks of excess consumption of added sugars, and that low- and no- calorie sweeteners are a safe and effective alternative to added sugars.

The FDA has 180 days to respond to the Citizen Petition. According to Burdock Group consultancy, most citizens' petitions are denied.

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