FDA to test voluntary “healthy” symbols through consumer research

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently signaled its continued interest in developing a voluntary “healthy” symbol for packaged foods as a representation of the nutrient content claim.

Quantitative research on voluntary “healthy” symbol

On 7 May 2021, the FDA issued a notice in the Federal Register announcing that it is conducting preliminary quantitative consumer research on symbols that could be used in the future to convey the nutrient content claim “healthy” on packaged foods.1 In the Constituent Update announcing the notice, the FDA further explained that it is conducting the consumer research “in conjunction with the development of a proposed rule the FDA intends to later publish that would update when manufacturers may use the ‘healthy’ nutrient content claim on food packages.”2 

“Healthy” rulemaking under the Nutrition Innovation Strategy 

Updating the definition of “healthy” and developing a symbol that would allow companies to voluntarily signal to consumers that a product is “healthy” have been on the FDA’s agenda since the agency first announced the Nutrition Innovation Strategy (NIS) in 2018.3 Stakeholders have commented to the FDA that the substantive criteria for what is “healthy” should be updated before the FDA pursues rulemaking on a symbol. At this time, it is not clear whether the FDA will try to include the symbol as part of the overall healthy rulemaking, or whether the agency will first issue a proposed rule on the criteria and a later one on the symbol, based on the research conducted pursuant to the 7 May notice. Notably, the proposed symbols would be voluntary for products meeting the “healthy” definition, and it does not appear that the FDA is pursuing research or rulemaking related to mandatory front of pack labeling, such as stop-light labeling or warning symbols, at this time.

Through the notice, the FDA is seeking comment on ways to enhance the quality, usefulness, and clarity of the information to be collected. Comments are due Tuesday, 6 July 2021. 

Next steps    

We will continue to monitor developments related to nutrient content claims and the Nutrition Innovation Strategy.

 

References

1    86 Fed. Reg. 24629 (7 May 2021). The notice was required under the Paperwork Reduction Act to give the public the opportunity to comment on the proposed information collection.  
2    FDA Constituent Update, FDA Issues Procedural Notice on Consumer Research on “Healthy” Symbol (6 May 2021) available at https://www.fda.gov/food/cfsan-constituent-updates/fda-issues-procedural-notice-consumer-research-healthy-symbol
3    FDA Nutrition Innovation Strategy, available at https://www.fda.gov/food/food-labeling-nutrition/fda-nutrition-innovation-strategy

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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