FDA temporarily relaxes food labeling rules for minor ingredient swaps and calorie disclosures for vending machine items
Food manufacturers can now make minor ingredient substitutions without disclosing the changes on their packaging’s ingredient lists, thanks to the Food and Drug Administration’s recent loosening of food labeling and information requirements.
The new policy, announced on May 22, is meant to be a temporary way to provide manufacturers with flexibility in light of potentially limited product availability due to COVID-19-related disruptions. The “minor” formulation changes allowed without disclosure must not involve the top eight food allergens or other ingredients known to cause adverse health effects, must be no more than 2 percent of the food’s composition, can’t replace a major ingredient or a “characterizing” ingredient (e.g., omitting raisins in raisin bread), must not affect nutrient content or health claims on the label, and generally shouldn’t have a significant impact on the finished product. Under the new policy, manufacturers are also allowed to substitute unbleached flour for bleached flour without label changes, and vending machine companies no longer have to provide calorie information for their items.
While this regulatory change may seem small, it has caused alarm among some consumers and advocates, including the food-allergy organization and news site SnackSafely, which writes that the guidance contains “numerous loopholes that are of concern to members of the food allergy community.” Plus, as Megan Poinski writes for Food Dive, “the fact that it came out on the Friday before a long holiday weekend and allows for ingredient changes without label changes could make consumers think that regulators — and food manufacturers — have something to hide.” Advocacy groups are also concerned that the changes will become permanent amid a pattern of deregulation, with the FDA having already temporarily rolled back food regulations four times during the pandemic, the Washington Post reports.
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