Washington Insider-- Tuesday

More Complex Food Labels

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

Taiwan Maintains Position on Banning US Pork Products with Ractopamine

Taiwan is maintaining its position on banning the import of US pork products with ractopamine, Taiwan’s Council of Agriculture Minister Chen Bao-ji said Oct. 16. “In the near future, I don’t see the possibility to change our stand,” Chen said.

During recent talks for a bilateral with the United States on the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), Taiwan reiterated its willingness to enter the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Taiwan’s Economics Minister John Deng said the United States asserted it would support Taiwan in joining future TPP negotiations if Taiwan could open its market to US pork products with ractopamine. Deng said Taiwan would have to make a final decision on whether to relax the food safety regulations before it could gain US support for Taiwan’s participation in TPP negotiations.

Taiwan lifted its ban on US beef with ractopamine residue in 2012 as a prerequisite for the United States to agree to restart the long-stalled TIFA talks. Later in those talks, the United States also asked Taiwan to ease restrictions on pork products imports with ractopamine.

Despite the pressure from US negotiators, Taiwanese agriculture officials reiterated that imports of US beef and pork must be considered separately.

Ag Minister Chen said it is somewhat “nonsense” for the United States to force Taiwan, a small market for US pork exports, to take what it doesn’t want. Imported pork products account for only 10% of the market in Taiwan.

According to Chen, the pressure from the United States in recent years had affected the selling of US pork products in Taiwan. The United States was once the largest seller of imported pork products but now it is ranked fourth.


Vilsack Urges Public and Private Investment for Environment

Water quality and soil conservation concerns are pitting farmers against water authorities, state agencies and environmentalists in Iowa, recently spurring a lawsuit. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack is encouraging Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad to pursue public-private partnerships and provide state-backing for projects aimed at improving water quality and soil conservation in the state, the Des Moines Register reported.

Cooperation between farmers, agribusinesses, environmental and conservation groups is needed in order to resolve drainage runoff issues. The problems recently resulted in a lawsuit by a water utility against several drainage districts in the state, the Des Moines Register said.

Des Moines Water Works filed a lawsuit against drainage districts in Calhoun, Sac and Buena Vista counties saying their operations directly resulted in nitrates entering the river. Federal regulation of water discharged from drainage districts is sought by the lawsuit which would impose a burden on the state’s farmers. “The state has to do more, the worst thing that can happen is for a federal judge to decide this,” said Vilsack, a former governor of Iowa.

A three-eighths of Iowa’s 1% sales tax to fund the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund is being pushed by environmentalists and some farm groups as a means to raise funds for water quality efforts. The tax would raise around $120 million annually but stalled last spring in the state legislature, the Des Moines Register reported.

Regardless of the method approved to raise funds, it will cost as much as $1.2 billion annually over 50 years to build the conservation infrastructure farmers will need to offset the impact farming has on the state’s environment, scientists estimate.


Washington Insider: More Complex Food Labels

You may have thought that the world of food labels and labeling is complicated enough, but the fact is the Food and Drug administration is proposing to up the ante--sharply. BNA reported last week that FDA is recommending that consumers get no more than 10% of their daily calories from added sugar (sugars that don’t occur naturally in foods, such as fresh fruits). Now, however, food manufacturers are crying foul and arguing that the scientific basis for the recommendation is too weak.

In March 2014, FDA proposed to include the amount of added sugars on the Nutrition Facts label for food products, but did not include a recommended limit. Now, the agency says it is proposing to include the recommended percent Daily Value for added sugars, whatever that means.

FDA’s answer to that question is even more complicated. It says that “it is difficult to meet nutrient needs while staying within calorie requirements if you consume more than 10% of your total daily calories from added sugar.” This all is the result of recommendations from the dietary guidelines, FDA says, and, weirdly, it is part of their effort to “overhaul how the nutrition panel looks so consumers can better understand how ingredients fit into their diet.” Well, maybe.

FDA says that “a consumer who drinks a 20-ounce sugared beverage may be surprised to know it contains about 66 grams of added sugar, which would be listed on the label as 132% of the Daily Value.

FDA also says that the initial proposal to include the amount of added sugars on the Nutrition Facts label was further supported by newly reviewed studies suggesting healthy dietary patterns, including lower amounts of sugar-sweetened foods and beverages, are strongly associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. FDA also claims evidence for recommending that added sugar intake be no more than 10% of total daily calories.

Now, BNA says, there are quite a few food industry observers who are unimpressed with FDA’s logic. For example, the American Bakers Association, which represents companies like Krispy Kreme Doughnuts Inc. and The Kroger Co., said the FDA’s reliance on a draft report by a federal dietary guidelines committee is “scientifically insufficient.”

“FDA’s mandatory ‘added sugars’ and [percent] DV disclosures are not supported by robust scientific evidence or consumer research, do not promote predictability, potentially increase uncertainty, are not the least burdensome, do not maximize benefits, and the costs to bakers far outweigh any perceived benefits,” ABA said.

Land O’Lakes Inc., pointed out that FDA’s process for setting the daily value for added sugars is inconsistent with the process used for other nutrients like fat and sodium, which followed guidelines by the Institute of Medicine. The American Beverage Association that represents Dr. Pepper Snapple Group Inc., PepsiCo Inc. and other beverage giants requested additional time to review studies used by the 2015 dietary guidelines committee, which will finalize its report this year.

At the same time, public health advocacy groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation argue that numerous studies underscore the connection between added sugar and obesity, particularly in the case of sugar sweetened beverages, BNA said.

So, now we have an additional front in the fight over the national guidelines that likely will affect any regulatory requirements based on them. FDA has moved quickly to write new proposals for labels based on the new information, but is finding itself caught up in the criticism of the USDA-HHS basic background research. It also may be proposing guidelines that are more confusing than helpful.

The comment period for the FDA added sugar proposal ended Oct. 13 and the agency says it will publish a final Nutrition Facts panel by March 2016. As a result, this is yet another food fight that likely will continue at least into the early spring and which producers should watch carefully as it evolves, Washington Insider believes.

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