Sweeter Groups Education

While many see an uphill battle for sweeteners amid new dietary guidelines, added sugar labeling, declining soda consumption and a growing number of beverage taxes, others see opportunities to educate consumers as labels and eating healthy become more confusing to many consumers.

Opportunity was the view taken by Courtney Gaine, the new president and chief executive officer of The Sugar Association, speaking at the International Sweetener Symposium held Aug. 3 in Coeur D’Alene.

New Dietary Guidelines with a 10% target for added sugars and Nutrition Facts Panel rules listing added sugars provides an opportunity to address those issues with consumers, Ms. Gaine said.

“We have the right to talk about 10%,” Ms. Gaine said. “It’s no longer hidden. There is full transparency. It’s a tool to help consumers chose a healthy diet.”

She noted that government data showed only 13.5% of caloric intake was from added sugars in 2013-14.

“We are only 60 calories away from 10%,” she said.

“The sugar/obesity conversation is slowing down,” Ms. Gaine said, noting that sugar consumption has declined about 15% in the past 15 years, largely due to a 30-year low in soda consumption, but obesity rates remain high. “Sugar is seen as providing unnecessary calories. Teaching people how to consume sugar appropriately is our biggest job.”

Ms. Gaine said the growing threat of government decisions that were not science-based but were consumer driven were “the greatest threat to our industry,” especially at a time that consumers are tending to trust the government more for nutrition information than the food industry.

Also speaking at the Symposium, John Bode, president and c.e.o. of The Corn Refiners Association (C.R.A.), said multiple label changes that will be required as the Food and Drug Administration’s Nutrition Facts Panel changes and the new G.M.O. labeling law to be implemented by the U.S. Department of Agriculture over the next few years will be confusing to consumers and costly for food manufacturers.

“It is reckless to propose different label change dates for all these rules,” he said.

Mr. Bode called the rule to list “added sugars” on the Nutrition Facts Panel a mistake, which he said was intended by the F.D.A. to drive reformulation away from added sugars, causing consumer confusion in the process. The C.R.A. chose not to challenge the rule further, he said, so as not to challenge transparency.

 “There’s no evidence to support . . . a difference between added and naturally-occurring sugars,” Mr. Bode said, citing flaws from the F.D.A.’s lack of scientific approach in requiring Dietary Reference Intake and Daily Value information on the Nutrition Facts Panel.

He said there was only one survey to test consumer understanding of “added sugars” coupled with the Daily Value requirement on the Nutrition Facts Panel, and that showed consumer confusion, including ideas that added sugars had more calories and were less healthful than other sugars. It showed 63% of consumers surveyed said they would choose a “less healthful product to avoid a product with added sugars.”

He also noted problems with the “single nutrient approach” by government agencies, soda tax proponents and others that focused on sugars rather than on total caloric intake.

“Single nutrient approaches are not a silver bullet for obesity,” Mr. Bode said, citing government-led anti-cholesterol efforts from the 1970s that were abandoned in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines and the low-fat trend in the 1990s while obesity rates continued to rise. “The new anti-obesity focus is to decrease added sugars consumption.”

“The Corn Refiners Association does not promote increased consumption of sugar,” Mr. Bode said, adding that the C.R.A. realizes sweeteners contribute calories. “We feel it’s important to be understood.”