CATCH THE BUZZ – The development of new sugar standards could reduce sugars, and add honey.

Keith Loria

The Union of Concerned Scientists has petitioned the FDA to create “disqualifying levels” of added sugars that would prevent retailers and manufacturers from labeling or advertising high-sugar food products as “healthy,” according to the National Law Review.

The FDA has not changed the requirements of what constitutes a “healthy” food product since 1994, and the agency recently asked for comments to help it decide if the term should be redefined. 

The petition will most likely be a topic for conversation at the FDA’s scheduled March 9 public meeting.

The Union of Concerned Scientists collaborates with more than 17,000 scientists and technical experts across the country. With more than 180,000 connections on Facebook and 41,000 followers on Twitter, its opinion can be very persuasive.

The FDA is looking to groups like this during its public comment period to solicit feedback on guidance for the updated definition of “healthy,” just as it did in redefining “natural” last year.

The development of new sugar standards would be a timely update by the FDA. Consumer distrust of sugar is at an all-time high, and local taxes on sugary drinks were met with strong consumer support in several states last year.

The risk of losing a “healthy” label, an identifier that a majority of consumers seek on the products they buy, puts further pressure on manufacturers to reformulate their products. This could be achieved by swapping sugar for plant-based and natural sweeteners, such as stevia extract, agave nectar and honey. Consumer concern over health is no longer just tied to calorie counts — people want their products to be as natural as possible, and sugar has become a major no-no ingredient as a result. 

Some companies have responded to this consumer trend by innovating sugar itself, rather than replacing it with an alternative. Nestle, for example, has developed a way to reconstruct the sugar molecule so that its hollow on the inside. This could allow the confection giant to cut sugar content in its products by up to 40% without sacrificing sweetness.