AHPA encourages FDA to expand study of “healthy” claim symbols to include herbs, spices, and teas

AHPA recently submitted comments to FDA, asking the agency to expand proposed research on front-of-package labels to include herbs, spices, and teas.

The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA; Silver Spring, MN) submitted comments to FDA, asking for revisions to the proposed research on front-of-package symbols that are intended to convey the nutrient claim “healthy.” In these comments, published on July 6, AHPA requested FDA expand its research to capture how consumers may respond to the “healthy” symbol in a wider range of retail packaged formats such as spices and tea products. Currently, in its May 7, 2021 Federal Register notice announcing an opportunity for public comment on research FDA proposes to conduct, the agency provides a narrow set of product package types. The research would test consumer impression of symbols place on three types of mock food products, with FDA providing as examples, “a breakfast cereal, a frozen meal, and a canned soup.”

“Such a narrow set of product package types may prove insufficient to capture consumer impressions of a front of package symbol that consumers may encounter on a wide variety of products,” states AHPA in its comments. “Products meeting the “healthy” nutrient content claim criteria, such as teas, spices, and herbal products, may be sold in small packages that differ from those proposed by the Agency for Study 1. Package space constraints may also affect consumer perceptions of an accompanying explanation or URL, symbol elements that are proposed for evaluation in Study 1.”

The new comments coincide with and reference previous comments from AHPA encouraging FDA to expand the criteria of the new claim beyond nutrients into other foods, including herbs, spices and teas, that promote "healthy eating patterns" as recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. For example, in line with the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee which emphasized the importance of reducing sodium content of foods, and helping “consumers understand how to flavor unsalted foods with spices and herbs,” AHPA suggested to FDA that “healthy options to reduce sodium intake could allow herb and spice blends or prepared foods that substitute herbs and spices for salt to bear a claim such as ‘a healthy alternative to salt.’”

Similarly, in line with Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s recommendation that added sugars should be reduced in the diet, and not replaced with low-calories sweeteners, but rather with healthy options, AHPA suggested that “companies that market teas would be motivated to provide healthier options if regulations allowed a ‘healthy’ claim, such as ‘unsweetened tea is part of a healthy diet.’” AHPA also encouraged FDA to prioritize efforts to amend the current regulation that is inconsistent with the latest nutrition research and expressed support for FDA's current policy to exercise enforcement discretion until the current "healthy" regulation is updated.