Boxes of Pop Tarts
Roberto Herrett/Alamy
By Chris Prentice

In Washington, a pivotal battle over sugar is heating up. One small corner of the wider culture war over public health and sweeteners, this fight isn't about how much sugar should be in your food, but how much you should know about it.

U.S. food regulators say the public needs to know how much sugar manufacturers add to their products, beyond the sweetener that naturally occurs in the raw ingredients. Companies such as Campbell Soup Company say they don't need to inform the public, and that making a distinction risks dangerous confusion.

This week the Food and Drug Administration will begin reviewing thousands of public comments on proposed new labeling regulations that would require food makers to specify how much sugar they are adding to products. Current labeling laws only require them to list total sugar content.

The move marks U.S. regulators' first significant step to address a growing clamor from health groups and scientists who say that excessive sugar consumption is a key culprit in the nation's obesity and diabetes epidemics.

It also comes amid growing public demands for greater transparency in the U.S. food supply chain, fueled by interest in everything from animal welfare to genetically modified grain.

"There's been an increasing drum beat on the part of public health advocates to give consumers that information," says Michael Jacobson, the head of nonprofit food advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest, which has spent decades crusading to tackle high sugar levels.

Jacobson said he was "delighted and almost in disbelief" when he heard of the FDA's plans, which were announced in February.

Not everyone is thrilled. If added, the line would be a major blow for sweetener companies already battling each other in an overcrowded industry as the growth of America's massive sweet tooth stalls.

It is impossible to determine how many sugars have been added to a container of yogurt, unless companies choose to disclose it. Sugar is used to enhanced flavor in a wide range of products, beyond simply cookies and sodas.

The fight is about to get serious, with lobbyists on either side expected to step up pressure as the FDA reviews public comments ahead of issuing a final rule. From there, it would likely be years before companies are required to update their labels.

'Sugar Is Sugar'

U.S. government data shows that per capita consumption of caloric sweeteners has been declining for over a decade, but health groups say it is well above healthy levels.

Some nutrition experts and scientists say sugars that are added to foods are greater contributors to weight gain, adding calories without the benefit of other nutrients. A few even say sugar itself is toxic.

That stance remains a controversial one. Food manufacturers and sugar companies resoundingly say there is not enough evidence to suggest "added sugars" contribute differently to weight gain than sugars that are intrinsic to a piece of fruit.

"Sugar is sugar, regardless of the source," Campbell Soup Company, the maker of Pepperidge Farm and Prego products, wrote in a letter to the FDA.

"Giving consumers a false impression that reducing added sugars without reducing calories may actually delay finding a real solution the problem" of obesity, Lisa J. Thorsten, the company's director of regulatory affairs and nutrition, wrote.

The Sugar Association, which represents the makers of household brands, including Domino Sugar and Imperial Sugar, went further, saying the lack of scientific evidence to justify the line sets an "alarming precedent."

But CSPI's Jacobson and a number of other health advocates insist that added sugar are different and are hidden sources of empty calories at the very least.

The American Heart Association recommends that women, for example, consume no more than about 6 teaspoons of added sugars each day. That is less than the amount in a 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola.

The World Health Organization in March issued a draft of new guidelines advocating people cut the recommended amount of added sugars they eat in half, updating the guidelines it introduced a decade ago.

"The big difference between now and then [is] we have a system to provide the guidelines," said Francesco Branca, the WHO's nutrition department director. "We have credibility from the scientific point of view that make these guidelines easier to defend."

For 'Junk Food Critic,' Move Is Long Overdue

Some critics doubt the effectiveness of the so-called "facts panel" overhaul. The U.S. government earlier this year said that just around half of all consumers read the labels and make decisions based on the information.

"The people who read labels are the people who are already watching their health and their weight. This isn't going to cause a dramatic change," said Baylen Linnekin, head of nonprofit Keep Food Legal and a critic of the labeling measure as well as other government involvement in the food sector, including subsidies.

The Sugar Association also said the move represents a concerning extension of regulatory power in requiring food makers to turn over private records to the U.S. government.

The regulators' move underscores the growing public scrutiny of sugar consumption, a trend that cheers Jacobson, who has targeted soda makers and sued food companies in a self-appointed role as the nation's "food cop."

Washington-based public relations specialist and industry advocate Rick Berman says Jacobson is in the "food hysteria business" and dismisses the anti-sugar craze as a fad.

With industry lobbying efforts building up, Jacobson, 71, said he is "not planting the white flag yet." But he is quietly savoring what could be the most meaningful step in his quest.

"It has been a long, long time."

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TiSecret CB

As long as these nutrition labels are more beneficial than detrimental, perhaps they are something good to have. However, I don't know if it is easy to completely say no to added sugar in food over the long term.

Additionally to the body that may result from weight loss, there seem to be more benefits that a person may get. Effectively, I have read that weight loss may have a positive health effect on: help lowering the risk of kidney stones, help regarding the risk of cardiovascular disease, it may help lower blood pressure, and reduce bad cholesterol.

In case you have been looking for a weight loss solution that is not about being shackled by a diet, here is a webpage you may check out: http://9nl.us/kq9f

It seems to me that losing weight for the long term is what really matters and not being enslaved by a weight loss plan may help in achieving that.

August 05 2014 at 5:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
John Roberson

Most of your can meats like Chef Boy R Dee products and canned soups have increased the amount of water they add to their products, and decreased the meat and vegetables as to make their products so undesirable. And has anyone seen the size of TV dinners lately; there isn't enough there to feed a bird. And the package size of everything is decreasing and there is no inflation? C'mon government, we know there is so much inflation in food costs and you are just deceiving us royally!!!!!!

August 04 2014 at 11:04 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
John Roberson

a ten pound bag of sugar states that a serving size contains 15 calories. Rather stupid and think there are about 1600 servings per 10 pound bag. And who uses just one serving in a batch of cookies? Just a deception of the food industry. Look at ice cream and think about that serving size and peanuts. Think how Planters advertises the vitamins of their product and not the fats and calories? The food industry has gotten away with labelling deceptions for years and have tried to even suggest that bottled water is fat free. So who is going to stop them, the food industry is just too big and has too much clout. The sugar lobby of South Florida, for instance works with the government to maintain the domestic price of sugar at a high level and thus force food manufacturers to use the lower priced High Fructose Corn Syrup Products, that are so inferior in flavor and other characteristics. Again, who is going to stop the food lobbyists, nobody!!!!!!

August 04 2014 at 10:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to John Roberson's comment
fakeconomics01

Excellent point John----Understanding the Labels is a tricky business

August 05 2014 at 1:23 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
fakeconomics01

These food companies have started the poisoning of America around 40 years ago with added sugar, fats and pink slime meats etc.; These food companies also distributing same poison to all school lunch programs now you can see the results. Enough is enough-- we must stop this

August 04 2014 at 9:12 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
trmnatr2

I had trouble controlling my weight all of my life until i eliminated sugar, now it's so easy to knock off a few pounds if i picked up some weight over the weekend.

August 04 2014 at 8:44 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
stag01987

What difference doe's it make how much added sugar's in a product? Labels already show the total amount of sugar and recommended percentage of daily intake. Ingredients are listed in order according to content.

August 04 2014 at 8:33 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
jrc22552

Here is a compromise: the food companies will label the products accordingly, and in return they will be protected from all lawsuits based on the sugar and other ingredients in their products.

August 04 2014 at 6:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
petpetdon

If sugar is listed on the ingredients panel then there is added sugar. The morons can't read don't care how much sugar is in products anyway. They are buying them with their food stamp money.

August 04 2014 at 5:15 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
jpfmtka

Prepare your own meals absent prepared, processed, preservative filled or "pink slime added" ingredients. For extra-busy households, many things can be made in a bit bigger quantity and individual portions frozen for future meals. Other items, salads, steamed or sautéed in-season veggies, fish and shellfish, pork, chicken or beef medallions, can be put together anytime within 40 minutes.

August 04 2014 at 5:02 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
drpmindmender

The best way to reduce sodium and sugar consumption is not eat any processed foods.

August 04 2014 at 4:10 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply