Organic Consumers Association

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Food Labeling Delay Just Latest Sign of Business Clout in Washington

Advocates believe consumers won't get needed information.

WASHINGTON – When the U.S. Food and Drug Administration indefinitely suspended implementation of new food nutrition labeling rules last month, it showed the clout of the nation’s food lobby, which includes trade groups representing more than a dozen Minnesota companies.

It also reflects a drive in the nation’s capital to scrutinize regulations under President Donald Trump to help spur economic growth.

The announcement came a year after the rules had supposedly been finalized and a deadline for compliance set. The government said it will eventually apply the rules, and the food industry promises to ­eventually abide by them.

But the food industry balked at a two-year labeling deadline, told the government so, and received a reprieve that likely will last three years and perhaps longer. Concerns include confusion and cost.

The industry estimates that spreading compliance costs over five years instead of two will save companies nearly $2 billion. Meanwhile, consumers will have to wait to learn things like the amount of sugar added to foods and beverages, a process that some nutritionists believe drives the nation’s obesity and Type 2 diabetes epidemics.

The business sector has sway like it hasn’t had in decades, said Steve ­Billet, a former lobbyist now teaching at George Washington University. Diluting regulations by delaying them has long been a strategy for big players when they don’t get their way in Washington, Billet said.

But under the Trump administration, complaining — even after the fact — will likely yield ­results. “I suspect pushback by any industry is going to be well-received,” Billet said. “Companies feel empowered.”

This kind of influence raises questions, said Mehmet Konar-Steenberg, an administrative law specialist at Mitchell Hamline School of Law.

“The public should be asking who benefits from these kinds of regulatory reversals,” Konar-Steenberg explained. “Does public health benefit? Or is something else going on?”

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