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Washington, D.C. –At a time when the number of Americans struggling with obesity is swelling and more and more consumers are closely monitoring what they eat, it's especially important for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to be diligent with its oversight of food labeling, according to U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo.

He said this is especially true for soft drinks, which have been mislabeled for years, giving the impression that they contain sugar when they nearly exclusively contain high fructose corn syrup. Instead of listing the corn sweetener exclusively, the label reads "high fructose corn syrup and/or sugar."

"To ensure that American consumers have accurate, unambiguous information on the beverages they purchase, the FDA should follow through with its withdrawal of the proposed rule on "and/or" labeling for soft drinks," Enzi wrote in a June 2 letter to the FDA.

The proposed rule would permit a special labeling exemption to allow "and/or" declaration of sweeteners in soft drinks and other beverages. The FDA has been allowing this practice for years, but announced in April 2003 its intent to withdraw this proposal.

Enzi is asking the FDA not only to withdraw the proposed rule, but to stop allowing soft drink manufacturers to use labeling that misleads consumers about how their beverages are sweetened.

"The current soft drink labeling practices are unfair to both consumers and to the hard-working sugar beet growers of Wyoming," said Enzi. "If the beverage contains high fructose corn sweetener and not sugar then that is what the label should indicate. There is a difference between corn sweetener and sugar. Health-conscious consumers need the right labeling information to make the most informed decisions."

The extra concentrated high fructose corn sweetener used in soft drinks and many other bottled drinks has been linked to obesity and other health problems.

The full text of Enzi's letter to Lester M. Crawford, FDA Acting Commissioner, is available on Enzi's website (enzi.senate.gov).

June 2, 2004

Lester M. Crawford, D.V.M., Ph.D.
Acting Commissioner
U.S. Food and Drug Administration
5600 Fishers Lane
Rockville, Maryland 20857

Re: Docket No. 02N-0434: Withdrawal of Certain Proposed Rules and Other Proposed Actions; Notice of Intent

Dear Dr. Crawford:

I am writing to urge you to take immediate action to ensure the proper labeling of soft drinks.

On April 22, 2003, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published the above-referenced Notice of Intent to withdraw a number of proposed rules and other actions that have been pending for more than five years. Among the items in the notice is a proposed rule issued on January 6, 1993 (58 Federal Register 2950) regarding the declaration of ingredients in soft drinks.

The proposed rule would permit a special labeling exemption to allow "and/or" declaration of sweeteners only in soft drinks and other beverages. Although the FDA never promulgated this proposal as a final rule, the agency currently condones this practice through its "enforcement discretion" not to initiate enforcement actions against soft drink manufacturers that use "and/or" declarations in their product labeling.

I am concerned that the continued use of "and/or" sweetener declarations in soft drink labeling misleads consumers about the contents of these products. In the 1980s, the major soft drink manufacturers switched from sugar to high fructose corn syrup. Nevertheless, the major manufacturers continue to use "and/or" declarations in their labeling, two decades since their switch to the nearly exclusive use of high fructose corn syrup. In light of this, the rationale for this continued labeling flexibility ceases to exist.

To ensure that American consumers have accurate, unambiguous information on the beverages they purchase, the FDA should follow through with its withdrawal of the proposed rule on "and/or" labeling for soft drinks. To stop the misbranding of beverages, the FDA also should rescind its decision not to initiate enforcement action against soft drink manufacturers that use "and/or" labeling in the listing of product sweeteners.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,


Michael B. Enzi
United States Senator

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