The Food and Drug Administration will re-evaluate its definition of "healthy," which could eventually change how a range of foods are marketed.
In light of evolving research, the FDA said it believes "now is an opportune time to re-evaluate the regulations concerning nutrition content claims, generally, including the term 'healthy'." The agency plans to solicit public comment on the matter in the near future, said Lauren Kotwicki, an FDA representative, in an email.
The FDA currently allows use of the term "healthy" on packaging only when products meet certain nutrient criteria, which largely revolve around limited levels of fat, cholesterol and sodium. As such, it sent a warning letter last year the maker of Kind fruit-and-nut bars saying the company's products should not be labeled as healthy because of their saturated fat levels.
Kind then sought a reevaluation of the term's definition from the FDA, noting the fat in its bars comes from nuts. The company noted the FDA's rules prevent avocados and salmon from being labeled healthy, while allowing the term for fat-free puddings and sugary cereals.
After some back-and-forth on the matter, the FDA told Kind in an email last month that it did not object to the company's use of the term "healthy and tasty" on its bar wrappers. The FDA said Tuesday it is allowing use of the phrase only framed as "corporate philosophy," rather than as a nutrient content claim.
The FDA said that Susan Mayne, director of its Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, discussed the agency's plans to revisit the term "healthy" at a conference on food regulatory matters last week. The agency's plans to revisit the term "healthy" were reported in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.
Last month, the House of Representatives also said in a report accompanying its agriculture appropriations bill that it expects the FDA to amend its regulation for "healthy" claims to be based on scientific agreement.
Any change in the regulation around the term could take years. The FDA's final rule on gluten-free labeling, for instance, took more than six years to complete.