The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) yesterday released its final guidance regarding use of the controversial term “evaporated cane juice,” having deemed it to be “false or misleading.” The agency recommends that food and beverage companies that list evaporated cane juice as an ingredient instead use “sugar” and optionally accompany it with “a truthful, non-misleading descriptor to distinguish the ingredient from other cane-based sweeteners.”
The FDA’s guidance comes seven years after it published initial labeling guidance regarding evaporated cane juice, an ingredient that is commonly described as a sweetener derived from the fluid extract of sugarcane; marketers claim that evaporated cane juice is processed differently than sugar. At the time, the agency stated that the term is “not the common or usual name of any type of sweetener, including dried cane syrup,”
In yesterday’s published remarks, the FDA went a step further:
“Evaporated cane juice is false or misleading because it suggests that the sweetener is fruit or vegetable juice or is made from fruit or vegetable juice, and does not reveal that the ingredient’s basic nature and characterizing properties are those of a sugar,” the agency wrote.
Despite its stance, FDA noted that the guidance does “not establish legally enforceable responsibilities” and “should be viewed only as recommendations, unless specific regulatory or statutory requirements are cited.”
Nevertheless, the FDA’s position on evaporated cane juice has been a point of focus in several class action lawsuits launched since the agency’s draft guidance was published in 2009. Beverage makers including Reed’s, Odwalla, Zola, Steaz and Santa Cruz Organic have faced lawsuits regarding labeling of evaporated cane juice. In most cases, plaintiffs claim that consumers are being misled into thinking that evaporated cane juice is a healthier option than sugar.
In a high-profile case involving super-premium juice brand Odwalla, the judge in the case chose to postpone the lawsuit until the FDA issued its final guidance. In 2014, United States District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers stated that in the case of Reese v. Odwalla, “any final pronouncement by the FDA in connection with that process almost certainly would have an effect on the issues in litigation here.”