by Nicole Civita

This week the FDA indefinitely delayed the deadline for implementation of the new Nutrition Facts label rules.  FDA said it will release more details about the extension in the Federal Register.

Since 2014, the Food and Drug Administration has been working to develop and launch a new Nutrition Facts Label and rules about serving sizes. The new label is designed to highlight information about calories and serving sizes in packaged food and drinks with large font with bold lettering. Among other things, it also requires disclosure of added sugars and information about the amount, not just the percent Daily Value of certain vitamins and minerals. Importantly, the rules also change the way serving sizes are calculated to bring the serving sizes more in line with the amounts Americans typically consume.  These changes were championed by Michelle Obama as part of her campaign to combat rising obesity and help consumers make more healthful food choices.

About a year ago, the FDA finalized the Nutrition Facts and Supplement Facts Label and Serving Size rules making them immediately effective and mandating that large companies switch to the new label by July 26, 2018. This would have provided two years of lead time before requiring that producers use the new format. Manufacturers with annual food sales of less than $10 million were given an additional year to comply. Accordingly, many food producers have spent the past year updating the way they calculate and present nutrition information.   

For the moment, the agency has provided little detail about the Nutrition Facts label deadline extension, but promises to do so “at a later time.”  For now, all the FDA has offered is that

“the framework for the extension will be guided by the desire to give industry more time and decrease costs, balanced with the importance of minimizing the transition period during which consumers will see both the old and the new versions of the label in the marketplace.”

However, because the final rule became effective on July 26, 2016, it is presently permissible for food producers to use either the old or the new Nutrition Facts label formats and rules.  Thus, extensions of the compliance deadline seem to enlarge rather than minimize the length of the transition period and create opportunity for more consumer confusion.

Handel Food Law has received frequent inquiries about when and how to make the switch to the new Nutrition Facts label. Some of our clients have already switched to the new format in connection with the launch of new products or packaging redesigns.  Given FDA’s announcement, it may be best to wait and see what further guidance FDA provides before changing to the new label.  We simply do not know if FDA will change course again.  

In short, we don’t expect that food producers will be required to comply with the new Nutrition Label and serving size rules anytime soon.  We will, of course, provide updates as the situation develops.