Washington Insider -- Tuesday

Battle Over Added Sugar Intensifies

Here's a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN's well-placed observer.

USDA: 1st Shipment of US Beef Arrives in South Africa

The first shipment of U.S. beef has now arrived in South Africa following the reopening of the South African market earlier this year, according to USDA.

The U.S. and South Africa concluded an agreement Jan. 7 on sanitary barriers and related health certificates for US beef, pork and poultry products exported to South Africa. The South African market had previously been closed to U.S. poultry since 2000, beef since 2003 and pork since 2013.

With the removal of the barriers, U.S. exports of meat to South Africa could reach $75 million annually.

The United States began shipping poultry to South Africa earlier this year under the terms of the agreement, with USDA detailing those exports totaled almost 12,000 tonnes, worth $7.2 million, in the first quarter of 2016.

Talk of 'TTIP Light' Again Rejected by EU Trade Ministers

A scaled back version of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), dubbed "TTIP light," is not an option, according to comments by Dutch Foreign Trade Minister Lilianne Ploumen to reporters, after a meeting of European Union trade ministers.

"There will be no 'TTIP light'," Ploumen said, adding that "The coming months will be crucial. Time is short if we want to conclude before the end of the Obama administration."

EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem also stressed the urgency of the negotiations. "The European Commission will try to do everything within its powers to finalize these negotiations before the end of the Obama Administration, but not at the expense of the content," she said.

At the meeting, Malmstroem updated the EU trade ministers on the progress in TTIP negotiations. She said progress has been made recently, but noted that some hurdles remain. The EU has struggled to secure protections for EU food products through geographical indications and also access to US public procurement market to EU contractors.

If substantial progress isn't made before a summer break, France will call for a halt to further talks France's State Secretary for Foreign Trade Matthias Fekl said during the meeting. Fekl's comments echo those of President Francois Hollande May 3.

"France does not support an agreement at any price. It is very important that the talks move forward in a substantial way before the summer break. Failing that, France will ask for an end of negotiations," Fekl said, according to a source in the meeting.

Washington Insider: Battle Over Added Sugar Intensifies

The Hill reported that yet another food label battle has intensified recently over proposed FDA regulations requiring the listing of "added sugars" on nutrition labels.

In 2014, FDA proposed that producers disclose how much sugar is added to a product, though not the specific amounts. Then last July the agency began proposing to require a "daily value" for added sugar that lists a percentage. Now the Sugar Association is crying is crying foul over what it calls the agency's turnaround. For good measure, it also argues that FDA lacks scientific evidence to justify the requirement.

Courtney Gaine, the association's president and CEO says, "The way they've added the added sugar proposal is a deviation from the factors they consider when making labeling decisions." He said the FDA has to be able to prove a public health link between a nutrient and a disease or some sort of quantitative number that is based on science before setting a percent daily value for a product ingredient.

The FDA says it has a strong basis for the change, based on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines that recommended that Americans limit their added sugar intake to less than 10% of their total daily calories. Critics then argued that the guidelines recommendation was entirely based on intake estimates and not science, The Hill reports.

Aside from their complaints about the process, major food companies like General Mills say they worry that the FDA's rule is too complex and will confuse consumers. It won't be clear, they say, that the extra number for added sugars is part of the total sugar count, not in addition to it.

"Consumer research conducted by General Mills, FDA and the International Food Information Council has consistently shown that the declaration of 'added sugar' decreases consumer understanding of the total sugar content of a product, and shows that the proposed nutrition label format changes offer no clear advantage to the current format," the company said. They want additional consumer research on the totality of the proposed label changes and formats before issuing their final rule," The Hill reported.

In any case, like most complicated rules, this proposal has attracted lots of interest by attorneys who are already considering legal challenges -- although the proposal is still under review by the White House Office of Management and Budget. However, Glenn Lammi, chief counsel of legal studies at the Washington Legal Foundation, a free-market-oriented public interest group is threatening court challenges if OMB does not proceed with care.

He says that it is the stigma the agency is trying to attach to sugar that has groups willing to fight. "This country through government policy has had a fascination with one nutrient being the boogeyman of nutrition problems," he said. "If it wasn't fats it was carbohydrates, but all those efforts haven't necessarily reduced the level of obesity in this country. We're worried consumer will cut out added sugars and won't necessarily become more healthy."

Other interested parties told The Hill they are not much impressed by that argument. For example, Rachel Johnson, a professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont and American Heart Association spokeswoman, said settled science clearly shows that consuming a lot of sugar is associated with adverse health effects including, hypertension, heart disease, obesity and obesity-related cancers, The Hill reported.

"It is my view and the view of the American Heart Association that the amount of added sugars in a product is important information for consumers to have," Johnson said.

According to the FDA, 13% of the average American's total daily calories come from added sugars now. And, concern about levels of sugar consumption have been widespread. "For the past decade, experts have advised consumers to reduce their intake of added sugars because they contribute empty calories to the diet, and the proposed new label information supports that advice," the agency said in a statement. "If finalized, consumers would see the same information on the Nutrition Facts Label for added sugars that they have seen for other nutrients such as saturated fat and sodium." FDA said it would not speculate on when the final rule might be issued, although it would not be surprising if it did not emerge until after the fall elections.

So, the proposed labels would be more complex but the continuing concerns over obesity are leading to growing support for stronger labels, among other things -- including taxes on sweetened drinks. There undoubtedly will be considerable back and forth over the details of FDA's proposed labels -- but tougher food consumption guides seem increasingly likely in the future, especially if the obesity problem continues to be important enough to influence policy, Washington Insider believes.

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