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Are foods labeled “low in sugar” misleading consumers?

In January, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group in Washington, sent a letter to the FDA identifying marketing claims on 19 widely sold sugary drinks from five brands that it said were misleading. The group highlighted several flavors of Honest iced tea, which carry the claim “just a little sweet”, as well as brands like Steaz, which markets several flavors of organic iced tea as “slightly sweet” although they contain 20 grams of sugar per serving, or about five teaspoons.

“If you look at the amounts of sugar in these things that say they’re slightly sweet – I mean, really?” said Marsha Cohen, a law professor and expert in food law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law. “What is strongly sweet for them?” It’s kinda crazy.

Sarah Sorscher, deputy director of regulatory affairs at CSPI, said such claims give consumers the wrong impression of what it means to have a healthy level of sweetness in their drinks.

“People drink it thinking it’s less sweet options,” she said. “But they’re still extremely high in added sugars, so they don’t really mislead consumers about what it means to eat healthy.”

At the heart of the problem are nutrient content claims. In the early 1990s, the FDA decided that companies could advertise their products as low in fat, cholesterol, calories, and sodium if the amount of these nutrients in their products reached certain thresholds. But at the time, health officials were less concerned about sugar, and the FDA chose not to set a threshold for low sugar claims because there was no scientific consensus on a healthy level of sugar. daily sugar intake. The agency says in its guide to food labeling for industry that the low sugar claim has not been defined and “cannot be used” in marketing.

The CSPI argues that companies are flouting the rule by using synonyms for low sugar that are known under FDA regulations as “implied” nutrient content claims, such as mildly sweet and mildly sweet. He said the agency should take “immediate enforcement action” against the companies and define a low-sugar product as one with less than three grams of added sugar per serving. This is similar to the requirements for other low nutrient claims, and is equivalent to about 5 percent of the FDA’s Daily Value, or recommended limit, for added sugar intake.

In a statement, the FDA said it was reviewing the letter from CSPI and planning to respond to it. Steaz did not respond to a request for comment. Honest Tea said part of the company’s founding mission was to meet consumer demands for drinks “less sweet than others on the market.”

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