“KIND” of Nutritious—FDA Permits “Healthy” Label and Agrees to Rethink Its Definition of “Healthy” Foods

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The Food and Drug Administration has kindly permitted Kind LLC to use the term “healthy” on its snack bars again, but with the caveat that the term must only be used in text clearly presented as part of Kind’s corporate philosophy, and not as a claim about the products’ nutrient content.

In March 2015, the FDA issued a warning letter to Kind, concerning four of Kind’s snack bars which the FDA said were misbranded as “healthy.” According to the FDA, the Kind snack bars at issue, which contain fruits and nuts among other things, contain more fat and saturated fat than the FDA’s definition of “healthy” allows.  Moreover, the FDA said, the product labels claimed the bars were rich in antioxidants, had no trans fats, and were good sources of fiber without including certain necessary disclosures. The FDA says that after receiving this warning, Kind took corrective actions, including removing and amending certain nutritional content claims on its packaging and labeling. Kind then returned to the FDA to confirm that it was not barred from using the phrase “healthy and tasty” in text “clearly presented as its corporate philosophy, where it isn’t represented as a nutrient content claim, and does not appear on the same display panel as nutrient content claims or nutrition information.”  The FDA agreed not only to this proposal, but also to reconsider how the agency defines “healthy” more generally in response to a citizen petition initiated by Kind in December 2015.

Kind’s citizen petition points out that the FDA’s definition of “healthy” is over 20 years old and excludes foods such as nuts, avocados, olives, and salmon, while embracing fat-free chocolate pudding and some sugary cereals. According to Kind, these outdated food labeling regulations focus on specific nutrient levels of proteins and fats rather than on the nutritional value of the whole foods. Kind therefore asked the FDA to update its existing food labeling requirements to be consistent with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, and to amend the definition of “healthy” to emphasize the importance of overall nutrition quality of foods in their whole form rather than specific nutrient levels.  The FDA evidently did not think Kind’s arguments were entirely nutty and, in response, has indicated that it will soon be reexamining how it defines “healthy” food in light of evolving nutrition research, and will be seeking public comment on this issue.

For now, companies may be able to market their food products as part of a “healthy” corporate philosophy in the same manner that the FDA has sanctioned for Kind. But watch this space for more developments as the FDA rethinks what it means to eat healthy.

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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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