Submitted via http://www.regulations.gov.
February 16, 2023
Dockets Management Staff (HFA-305)
Food and Drug Administration
5630 Fishers Lane, Room 1061
Rockville, MD 20852
Re: Docket No. FDA-2016-D-2335 for Proposed Rule on “Food Labeling: Nutrient Content Claims; Definition of Term ‘Healthy’”; 87 Federal Register 59168 (September 29, 2022)
Dear Sir or Madam,
We appreciate this opportunity to submit comments in response to the proposed rule by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) posted on the Federal Register September 29, 2022, entitled “Food Labeling: Nutrient Content Claims; Definition of Term ‘Healthy.’” We understand the importance of food labeling and nutrition claims, and importantly, ensuring they are consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA). However, we do have concerns regarding portions of the regulation that may exclude certain food products under the current proposed “healthy” definition.
Since 1929, NCFC has been the voice of America’s farmer-owned cooperatives. NCFC members include regional and national cooperatives, which in turn consist of nearly 2,000 local farmer- owned cooperatives across the country. Farmer cooperatives – businesses owned, governed, and controlled by farmers and ranchers – are an important part of the success of America’s agricultural supply chain.
NCFC has an extremely diverse membership, which we view as one of our sources of strength – our members span the country, supply nearly every agricultural input imaginable, drive innovation, develop new technologies, provide credit and related financial services, and market a wide range of commodities and value-added products. Our membership includes:
- Marketing cooperatives – which handle, process and market virtually every commodity grown and produced in the United States.
- Bargaining cooperatives – which bargain to help their farmer members obtain reasonable prices for the commodities they produce.
- Farm supply cooperatives – those engaged in the manufacture, sale and/or distribution of farm supplies and inputs, as well as energy-related products, including ethanol and biodiesel.
- Credit cooperatives – include the banks and associations of the cooperative Farm Credit System that provide farmers and their cooperatives with a competitive source of credit and other financial services, including export financing.
This breadth of diversity means that farmer co-ops span the entire food and agriculture supply chain from the farm gate all the way to the grocery store aisle – and our co-ops are proud to serve the nation’s families the highest quality foods. NCFC supports and is in alignment with the comments submitted by several of our member cooperatives.
1. Consistency Across Federal Programs. As the Administration moves forward with several proposed rules impacting the nutrition requirements across various federal programs, it is imperative that these requirements be consistent with not only each other, but with the DGA. Consistency is foundational for consumers to better understand nutritional guidance and to adapt healthier and more nutrient dense eating patterns. Additionally, consistency across federal programs helps ensure food manufacturers are best serving each program whether that be children in the school meals program, expecting mothers or growing toddlers, or every consumer that walks the aisles of a grocery store.
The DGA is considered a respected source for researching, developing, and communicating key nutrition and health recommendations for each stage of life. They conduct robust scientific reviews of the current body of evidence and engage stakeholders aiming to provide transparency and public participation throughout the process. As such, we believe that the DGA should be the basis for determining a definition of “healthy” for the purposes of food labeling. Unfortunately, there are some inconsistencies with certain provisions in the proposed rule and the recommendations from the DGA.
2. Implications for Nutrient Dense Foods and Dietary Components. NCFC recognizes the importance of healthy dietary patterns and analyzing overall intake of dietary components such as added sugar and sodium. However, a zero-tolerance threshold for some foods only serves to alienate nutritious options for Americans, and in turn can reduce the intake of essential vitamins and minerals. This overly restrictive approach does not align with the recommendations for the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans that recommend added sugar be limited to <10% (50 grams) across the totality of the day (or a 2,000-calorie diet). FDA should include nutrients- to-encourage to help capture food products that are nutrient-dense and can help U.S. consumers meet dietary recommendations.
Based on compelling scientific evidence, we believe that peanuts, peanut butter, and other peanut products are nutrient-dense foods that fit into various dietary patterns, and that they can be recommended under the new definition of “healthy” to all consumers. We are concerned that certain nutrient-dense protein foods may be automatically excluded based on the strict proposed restriction of 0% Daily Value (DV) added sugar. Requiring that all individual protein foods have 0% DV added sugar will exclude certain peanut products, such as peanut butter, that have a small amount of added sugar for palatability.
While peanuts are naturally low in saturated fat, we agree with FDA that all nuts should be included in the definition of healthy, regardless of saturated fat content. An overemphasis on fat can contribute to misperceptions about nutrient-dense, higher-fat foods. We also ask FDA to consider adjusting the limit on saturated fat from added oils in peanut butter, making it consistent with the proposed limit for other protein foods (less than 10% DV).
The DGA encourages Americans to consume more fruits and vegetables. However, under the proposed rule this limits the types of fruits and vegetables deemed “healthy” for consumers. For example, as currently written, the proposal will discourage the consumption of nutrient-rich cranberry and tart cherry products, undermining the purpose of the proposed rule. These products offer consumers considerable health benefits. While the proposed rule recognizes exceptions for other unique products (e.g., eggs, shellfish), if the rule remains as proposed, dried cranberries and tart cherries will be unfairly disadvantaged in the marketplace. This would not only harm farmers who cultivate these fruits, but also American consumers who could be discouraged from consuming these nutrient-dense products. These fruits should be exempt from the proposal’s 0% DV added sugar criteria applied to the fruit group because these products not only deliver fruit servings, and undoubtedly contribute to healthy dietary patterns, but they are also nutrient-dense and offer consumers health-promoting polyphenols that contribute to several health benefits.
Moreover, our suggested exemption will further promote the underlying intention of the proposal by encouraging increased fruit consumption and healthier dietary patterns in the United States.
According to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines, about 90 percent of the U.S. population does not meet dairy recommendations. The percent of Americans who drink milk as a beverage on a given day is 65 percent among young children, 34 percent in adolescents, and about 20 percent for adults. Limiting the number of nutrient dense dairy products, like chocolate milk or flavored yogurt, deemed as part of a “healthy” diet could be counterproductive to the DGA recommendations to increase dairy consumption.
3. Importance of promoting all-forms to address access and health equities. While the proposed rule intends to advance health equity, its application may further alienate marginalized groups who may not have access to certain foods that could be misperceived as healthier than others. The “healthy” definition should advance health equity by promoting inclusivity such that nutrient-dense, economical foods that are available in all communities should qualify. Dairy products, peanut butter, and fruits and vegetables in all forms can all be a part of a healthy diet at an accessible price point for consumers.
4. Healthy Versus Unhealthy. FDA should clarify that just because a food does not meet the voluntary definition of “healthy” does not mean it is “unhealthy.” As FDA finalizes the rule, NCFC encourages the agency to clarify that though the voluntary rule sets a definition for what products can voluntarily use the “healthy” claim, it does not define what is “unhealthy.” FDA should consider consumer education efforts to help consumers understand how both foods that are eligible to bear this voluntary claim, and those that do not, fit into the context of an overall healthy dietary pattern.
We look forward to working with FDA officials in the coming months to ensure that federal nutrition guidance is aligned with sound science, consistent across Federal agencies, empower all consumers to make and have access to healthy choices.
Charles F. Conner
President & CEO