The Big Apple puts added sugars on notice

How a new NYC law could spur action on added sugars well beyond the Big Apple. And FDA proposes a ban on one of the additives California just banned.

A photograph of a soda fountain focused on the brand names: Coca-Cola, Diet Coke, etc.s

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Today, in Food Fix: 

— How a new NYC law could spur more action on added sugars

— FDA proposes ban on one of the additives California just banned


NYC puts added sugars on notice 

On Thursday, and seemingly out of nowhere, the New York City Council passed a bill mandating warnings on high-sugar items in restaurants. (This legislation wasn’t even on my radar until about 24 hours before it sailed through the council, and it’s gotten almost no press coverage.)

The first-of-its-kind bill builds on a policy the city passed back in 2021 that required warnings on certain high-sugar pre-packaged items sold in restaurants (with more than 15 locations), but wasn’t set to take effect until after the local pandemic emergency declaration ended (it ended over the summer). 

The new bill operationalizes the 2021 policy by creating a new three-tiered phase in: First, pre-packaged items (think bottled soda, packaged snacks) will need to carry a warning as of June 2025. Then, in December 2025, the policy expands to foods with an identical pre-packaged version (this is mostly about targeting fountain drinks). And phase three: The city will require a high-sugar icon and warning on menus (this is tied to FDA updating its federal regulations for menu labeling; more on that below). 

The NYC bill requires a factual warning statement about high added sugars intake, “which will be displayed at the register, on the menu board, and next to places where high-sugar items are dispensed, such as soda fountains,” per the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a backer of the legislation. This warning would begin appearing in 2025.

NYC and beyond: While this news is out of New York City – home to more than 8 million people – it could have ripple effects far beyond the Big Apple. Health advocates hope the move will add pressure on FDA to accelerate efforts at the federal level to curb added sugar consumption.

“I think this is going to be a good nudge for them to get their act together so they can publicly do something on added sugars,” said DeAnna Nara, senior policy associate at CSPI, who was in New York City on Thursday for the bill’s passage. 

Added sugars history: For those who haven’t been following the intricacies of added sugars policy over the last decade, here’s a quick refresher: 

During the Obama administration, the FDA updated the Nutrition Facts panel for the first time ever to include the disclosure of added sugars. (Before, it was just total sugars with no delineation of naturally occurring vs. added.) This was right after the Dietary Guidelines for Americans – the official U.S. nutrition advice – recommended for the first time that Americans should limit their consumption of added sugars to 10 percent of calories or less. (For a 2,000 calorie diet, that would be a limit of 50 grams of sugar per day.)

When you see added sugars disclosed on Nutrition Labels, you can thank, in part, former first lady Michelle Obama, who helped prod the FDA into action even though large swaths of the food industry hated the idea. Since then, however, Washington hasn’t done a whole lot on the added sugars front. For example, school meals haven’t limited added sugars in their nutrition standards. (USDA earlier this year proposed setting a limit, but it’s still in rulemaking.)

Sugar on notice: That could all be about to change, however. Next week, the FDA is holding a big public meeting and follow-on listening sessions on added sugars – and a year ago the Biden administration included voluntary sugar reduction targets as potential part of its strategy for the White House conference on hunger, nutrition and health

Jim Jones, FDA’s new deputy commissioner for human foods – the point person for all things food at the agency – recently told reporters that addressing added sugars is a key FDA priority.

“The data is very clear that Americans are consuming too much added sugars from the foods that they buy,” Jones said. “We’re going to have a listening session where we’re going to hear from all stakeholders about what their ideas are about how we should approach the challenge we have with added sugars.”

Menu labeling refresh: One of the changes that could be on the horizon is FDA updating its existing menu labeling requirements for restaurants nationally. (You’ve probably at some point noticed calorie counts next to your sandwich or scone – that’s thanks to an FDA reg that actually originated from the Affordable Care Act.) An update could explicitly include added sugars as part of what’s required to be disclosed to consumers. The FDA never updated menu labeling requirements to align with what the agency requires to be disclosed for packaged foods via the Nutrition Facts panel – something that’s irked health advocates like the folks at CSPI who back in 2022 petitioned the agency to include added sugars disclosure for restaurants. (FDA has not yet decided on the petition.)

NYC twist: For the final phase of the NYC warning law to take effect, the FDA has to update menu labeling to include added sugars. Restaurant chains in the city would then have a year to comply.

Menu labeling check: It feels relevant to note here that federal menu labeling requirements for restaurants have been largely suspended during the pandemic. The intent was to provide struggling restaurants with regulatory relief – something no one really disputed in the thick of the crisis. Next week, however, those labeling requirements kick back in. So if you suddenly start noticing calorie counts in more places, that’s why! 

Whether FDA will move next to update those regulations to include added sugars remains to be seen, but health advocates can now argue that if FDA doesn’t do this, it’ll be holding up a public health initiative in one of the largest U.S. cities.

P.S. For you sugar policy nerds out there, the Government Accountability Office this week issued a report calling for an overhaul of the current sugar quota system, which sharply limits how much sugar the U.S. can import and helps keep prices high. More on that here. And full report here.


FDA proposes ban on one of the additives California just banned

The FDA on Thursday proposed banning the use of brominated vegetable oil (BVO), a food additive once used in popular citrus-flavored drinks and sodas like Gatorade and Mountain Dew, that has largely been phased out by beverage makers, including Coca-Cola and Pepsi, in response to potential health concerns, consumer petitions and negative PR.

“The agency concluded that the intended use of BVO in food is no longer considered safe after the results of studies conducted in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found the potential for adverse health effects in humans,” said FDA’s Jim Jones in a statement Thursday.

The move comes weeks after California banned BVO and three other controversial food additives (a policy that takes effect in 2027). FDA was widely praised for this week’s decision, even if advocates are also lamenting the decision took too long – the agency acknowledged health concerns linked to BVO back in the 1970s but didn’t take further action. 

Red Dye next? In FDA’s press statement this week, the agency also mentioned that Red Dye No. 3 is under review and hinted at a potential ban. (This dye has been banned in cosmetics for decades over cancer concerns.) Jones specifically noted that under federal law the agency is prohibited from, “approving a color additive that is ingested if it causes cancer in animals or humans when ingested. A decision from the FDA is forthcoming.”

Psst … hear it here first: On Tuesday, I flagged for paid Food Fix subscribers that the BVO move was likely to come out soon. Subscribe to stay ahead of the curve.


What I’m reading

Got Milk … cartons? School cafeterias won’t, thanks to a shortage (New York Times). “A nationwide shortage of the cartons is hitting the dairy industry, according to suppliers and state officials, leaving schools brainstorming other ways to keep the drink flowing into students’ diets,” reports Isabella Kwai. “Milk is served to millions of children across the country each school day, part of meal and supplement programs subsidized by the government. But schools across multiple states are experiencing ‘milk supply chain challenges,’ because of issues with packaging, warned a recent release from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The department advised that schools affected by the shortages could temporarily be flexible with whether they provide milk with meals or not.”

The long reach of the Walmart-Walton empire (Civil Eats). “All told, the Waltons’ philanthropic largesse means they hold sway with every major conservation group in America, fund fisheries management and ocean policy in countries all over the world, and are championing schools initiatives that have changed public education across the nation. They are also advancing efforts to push water rights toward market-based systems in drought regions,” write the editors of Civil Eats, introducing this newly released series on “Walanthropy.” “The company’s success has stunning implications for food and agriculture. Walmart has expanded its grocery business exponentially, now collecting one of every three grocery dollars spent in America, with colossal power to influence food prices for most goods, food policy, and the lives of food-producing regions, families, and towns. As a result, Walmart has more dominance over land use and associated climate policy than most of the non-fossil companies in the world.”

Jennifer Garner’s Once Upon a Farm has an audacious, mission-driven plan for hyper-growth (Inc). This profile on the fast-growing Once Upon a Farm company, co-founded by Garner and John Foraker (the former CEO of Annie’s) caught my eye. Christine Lagorio-Chafkin writes of Garner: “the daily job of guiding a company’s growth and mission was precisely what she wanted — and not so that she could be on Slack or Asana or Zoom all day…it came from having watched businesses move the needle while nonprofits struggled and governments were sluggish to improve early-childhood nutrition in America. She wanted to steer nationwide change, from the driver’s seat.” There are some interesting details about how the company got into the WIC program, too. 

The death rate for babies in America rose for the first time in 20 years (Wall Street Journal). “The rate of babies dying in the U.S. increased significantly for the first time in two decades, raising new alarms about maternal-infant health in America. The nation’s infant-mortality rate rose 3% from 2021 to 2022, reversing a decadeslong overall decline, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday. The rate increased from 5.44 infant deaths for every 1,000 births to 5.6 in 2022, a statistically significant uptick,” reports Liz Essley Whyte. “The increased complications and infections, especially among women giving birth prematurely, could be related to stresses such as the opioid epidemic and the lingering effects of the pandemic, researchers said. Higher prices for staples such as gas and groceries could also add to the stresses on expectant mothers. ‘If you’re worrying about putting food on the table for the rest of your family, getting to your prenatal care appointment is probably not going to be your top priority,’ said Dr. Rebecca Carlin, assistant professor of pediatrics at Columbia University Irving Medical Center.”

Alliance webinar with FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Human Foods James Jones (Alliance for a Stronger FDA). Not reading, per se, but this is on my watch list: On Monday, Nov. 13 the Alliance for a Stronger FDA is hosting a virtual conversation with Jim Jones, the agency’s new deputy commissioner for human foods. “For many stakeholders, this will be the first opportunity to hear him discuss his priorities, plans, and approach to change.” Register here.


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