Sugar Association petitions FDA to correct inaccurate "% less sugar" claims

Published online: Mar 07, 2014

The Sugar Association has filed a petition with the Food and Drug Administration requesting the agency amend regulations to correct inaccurate and conflicting terminology used to define "sugars" and "sugar" in food and beverage labeling.

The petition also aims to amend nutrient content regulations relating to the absence or the reduction of "sugars" to provide information on sweetener content in the same context and emphasis as caloric content.

The petition points out inconsistencies in the current regulations, noting that the regulations governing nutrient content claims for the class of ingredients denominated as "sugars" require food companies to use the term "sugar" when referring to any sweetener in the class. This terminology is directly contrary to the agency’s regulations that define the category of “sugars” to include "all free mono- and disaccharides (such as glucose, fructose, lactose, and sucrose)," and "sugar" as "sucrose, which is obtained from sugar cane or sugar beets."
 
The petition also notes that using the term "sugar" to refer to other sweeteners is misleading to consumers, who generally understand the term "sugar" to refer to sucrose products, such as table sugar. FDA acknowledged this fact in the preamble to final regulation of the Nutritional Label and Education Act (NLEA).
 
The Sugar Association is specifically requesting FDA take the following actions:
 
* Disallow the use of the term "sugar" in food and beverage labeling to refer to any sweetening ingredient other than sucrose from sugar cane or sugarbeets.
 
* Disallow the use of the term "sugar" to define all caloric sweetening ingredients that fall under the class of ingredients currently defined by FDA as "sugars." Specifically, disallow the use of the term "sugar" in nutrient content claims to identify the absence or reduction of the class of ingredients defined by FDA as "sugars."
 
* Eliminate "% less sugar(s)" claims because such claims can undermine consumer efforts to maintain or adopt healthy dietary practices. Current regulations do not require the disclosure of concomitant calorie impacts in modified products. Many "less sugar(s)" products do not have a significant reduction in calories and some have more calories than the referenced version.
 
*Should the agency choose not to eliminate "% less sugar(s)" claims, the agency should require that all claims about the absence or reduction of the class of ingredients denoted as “sugars” use accurate terminology and effectively communicate caloric content in the same context (e.g. "__% less sugars and __% fewer [or more] calories" than the referenced version).
 
"Historically and worldwide, the term 'sugar' means sucrose from sugar cane and sugarbeets. Therefore, to insure the integrity of FDA's fundamental policies on food labeling, the Association respectfully requests FDA amend its nutrient content claim regulations regarding the reduction or absence of caloric sweetening ingredients in foods and beverages to disallow the use of the term 'sugar.' The use of the term 'sugar,' which is a specific ingredient, to identify an entire class of ingredients in labeling is inaccurate and misleading," the petition states.
 
“Furthermore, current nutrient content claims regulations on the absence or reductions of caloric sweetening ingredients not only mislead consumers as to the identity of sweeteners in a product, current nutrient content claims do not provide sufficient information to assist and often undermine consumer efforts to manage caloric intake when purchasing products containing claims about the modification of sweetening ingredients. Under the FDCA, labeling may be deemed misleading based on the failure to reveal a fact that is material in light of other labeling representations,” the petition concludes.
 
Should you desire a full copy of the Sugar Association’s petition, contact Cheryl Digges (digges@sugar.org).