FDA Will Define ‘Healthy’ for Food Labels


A top Food and Drug Administration official said Tuesday that the agency this week plans to issue rules on when manufacturers may call a food “healthy,” closing what consumer advocates have viewed as a loophole in federal food label reforms.

F. Edward Scarbrough, the FDA’s labeling chief, would not provide details about how the agency will define healthful, or “healthy,” foods. He did say, however, that certain products in the Healthy Choice food line will be affected. A representative of ConAgra, maker of Healthy Choice, could not be reached for comment.

Healthy Choice is perhaps the best known of food lines that use “healthy” on their labels, either as part of the brand name or as a description. Consumer advocates have complained that, while many of these foods have reduced amounts of salt or fat, they are not necessarily rich in vitamins or other nutrients.

Consumer advocates were also concerned that food manufacturers, unable to meet new definitions of “light” or other descriptive terms, would substitute “healthy.”


Scarbrough made his comments after a press briefing on the agency’s food label reforms that take effect Sunday. On that date, manufacturers of processed food will be required to use uniform nutritional labels containing information on fat, sodium, protein and other nutrients and to meet strict definitions for 11 descriptive terms, such as “fat-free” or “low-sodium.”

In a survey two years ago, the National Consumers League counted more than 300 products with “healthy” on the label.

Sources said the FDA is likely to restrict the sodium and fat contents of a “healthy” food, and require that it contain at least 10% of the daily value for at least one of the following: Vitamin A, Vitamin C, calcium, iron or fiber. Sodium may be the most difficult ingredient to limit, since it enhances flavor.