| NEW YORK
NEW YORK Aug 4 In Washington, a pivotal battle
over sugar is heating up. One small corner of the wider culture
war over public health and sweeteners, this fight isn't about
how much sugar should be in your food, but how much you should
know about it.
U.S. food regulators say the public needs to know how much
sugar manufacturers add to their products, beyond the sweetener
that naturally occurs in the raw ingredients. Companies such as
Campbell Soup Company say they don't need to inform the
public, and that making a distinction risks dangerous confusion.
This week the Food and Drug Administration will begin
reviewing thousands of public comments on proposed new labeling
regulations that would require food makers to specify how much
sugar they are adding to products. Current labeling laws only
require them to list total sugar content.
The move marks U.S. regulators' first significant step to
address a growing clamor from health groups and scientists who
say that excessive sugar consumption is a key culprit in the
nation's obesity and diabetes epidemics.
It also comes amid growing public demands for greater
transparency in the U.S. food supply chain, fueled by interest
in everything from animal welfare to genetically modified grain.
"There's been an increasing drum beat on the part of public
health advocates to give consumers that information," says
Michael Jacobson, the head of nonprofit food advocacy group
Center for Science in the Public Interest, which has spent
decades crusading to tackle high sugar levels.
Jacobson said he was "delighted and almost in disbelief"
when he heard of the FDA's plans, which were announced in
Not everyone is thrilled. If added, the line would be a
major blow for sweetener companies already battling each other
in an overcrowded industry as the growth of America's massive
sweet tooth stalls.
It is impossible to determine how many sugars have been
added to a container of yogurt, unless companies choose to
disclose it. Sugar is used to enhanced flavor in a wide range of
products, beyond simply cookies and sodas.
The fight is about to get serious, with lobbyists on either
side expected to step up pressure as the FDA reviews public
comments ahead of issuing a final rule. From there, it would
likely be years before companies are required to update their
'SUGAR IS SUGAR'
U.S. government data shows that per capita consumption of
caloric sweeteners has been declining for over a decade, but
health groups say it is well above healthy levels.
Some nutrition experts and scientists say sugars that are
added to foods are greater contributors to weight gain, adding
calories without the benefit of other nutrients. A few even say
sugar itself is toxic.
That stance remains a controversial one. Food manufacturers
and sugar companies resoundingly say there is not enough
evidence to suggest "added sugars" contribute differently to
weight gain than sugars that are intrinsic to a piece of fruit.
"Sugar is sugar, regardless of the source," Campbell Soup
Company, the maker of Pepperidge Farm and Prego
products, wrote in a letter to the FDA.
"Giving consumers a false impression that reducing added
sugars without reducing calories may actually delay finding a
real solution the problem" of obesity, Lisa J. Thorsten, the
company's director of regulatory affairs and nutrition, wrote.
The Sugar Association, which represents the makers of
household brands, including Domino Sugar and Imperial Sugar,
went further, saying the lack of scientific evidence to justify
the line sets an "alarming precedent."
But CSPI's Jacobson and a number of other health advocates
insist that added sugar are different and are hidden sources of
empty calories at the very least.
The American Heart Association recommends that women, for
example, consume no more than about 6 teaspoons of added sugars
each day. That is less than the amount in a 12-ounce can of
The World Health Organization in March issued a draft of new
guidelines advocating people cut the recommended amount of added
sugars they eat in half, updating the guidelines it introduced a
"The big difference between now and then (is) we have a
system to provide the guidelines," said Francesco Branca, the
WHO's nutrition department director. "We have credibility from
the scientific point of view that make these guidelines easier
FOR 'JUNK FOOD' CRITIC, A LONG TIME COMING
Some critics doubt the effectiveness of the so-called "facts
panel" overhaul. The U.S. government earlier this year said that
just around half of all consumers read the labels and make
decisions based on the information.
"The people who read labels are the people who are already
watching their health and their weight. This isn't going to
cause a dramatic change," said Baylen Linnekin, head of
nonprofit Keep Food Legal and a critic of the labeling measure
as well as other government involvement in the food sector,
The Sugar Association also said the move represents a
concerning extension of regulatory power in requiring food
makers to turn over private records to the U.S. government.
The regulators' move underscores the growing public scrutiny
of sugar consumption, a trend that cheers Jacobson, who has
targeted soda makers and sued food companies in a self-appointed
role as the nation's "food cop."
Washington-based public relations specialist and industry
advocate Rick Berman says Jacobson is in the "food hysteria
business" and dismisses the anti-sugar craze as a fad.
With industry lobbying efforts building up, Jacobson, 71,
said he is "not planting the white flag yet." But he is quietly
savoring what could be the most meaningful step in his quest.
"It has been a long, long time."
(Reporting by Chris Prentice; Editing by Dan Grebler)