New Carbohydrate Labeling

A recent trend in weight loss diets has been a reduction of daily carbohydrate intake, concurrent with a subsequent increase in fat and protein consumption.  Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tommy G. Thompson recently released a new Food and Drug Administration (FDA) report outlining various ways to combat the American epidemic of obesity which, based on current trends, may become the leading preventable cause of death among Americans.  Central to the HHS report is the message “calories count” and includes recommendations to strengthen food labeling, ensure that food labels accurately portray serving size and to develop foods that are healthier and low in calories.  Refined sugar carbohydrates, which are high in calories, now comprise 12% of the average American’s daily diet, although the recommended amount is less than 5%.  High consumption of refined sugar has been indicated as contributing to the higher levels of obesity and diabetes.  A recent study looking at 100 years of data correlate the increase in Type II diabetes with the increase in consumption of high fructose corn syrup.

Following recent studies and consumer requests, the HHS report also recommends the definition of such terms as “low,” “reduced” or “free” and guidance for the use of the term “net” in relation to carbohydrate content of food. These recommendations stem from the increased consumer interest in low carbohydrate diets and in response to petitions asking FDA to define these terms.  Currently, the FDA regulations state that terms such as “free”, “zero”, “no”, “without”, “trivial source of”, “negligible source of “, “dietarily insignificant source of”, “low”, “little”, “few”, “contains a small amount of”, “low source of”, “reduced”, “less”, “lower”, “fewer” and any synonyms of these words are disallowed to describe carbohydrate content on food labels.  However, food labels may make an accurate quantitative statement of fact (e.g., 3g of carbohydrate per serving), as long as the statement does not characterize the amount of carbohydrate (“net” or type of “carbs”) present.

In a bold move, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) recently issued a new interim policy to advise meat and poultry product producers on how to incorporate carbohydrate information into food labels and advertising materials.  The interim policy would allow companies to label meat and poultry products with terms such as “Carb Conscious” and “Carb Wise”, which do not expressly state or imply a specific level of carbohydrates.  FSIS also agreed to allow terms such as “Net Carbs,” “Effective Carbs,” and “Net Impact Carbs,” if companies provide the calculations on the label.  However, terms such as “Only X grams Carbs” or “Just X grams Carbs,” are not allowed.