A Spoonful of (Added) Sugar Helps the Constitution Go Down: Curing the Compelled Speech Commercial Speech Doctrine with FDA’s Added Sugars Rule

Colleen Smith On May 27, 2016, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it was adopting a new rule that requires food manufacturers to list—on the already mandated Nutrition Facts label—how many grams of sugar have been added to a food product. Many opponents have criticized this “added sugars” rule on First Amendment grounds, arguing that the rule violates the commercial speech rights of food manufacturers. Whether the rule would survive constitutional scrutiny or not is an open question because the compelled commercial speech doctrine is anything but clear. Courts are split over whether Zauderer’s rational basis test, Central Hudson’s intermediate scrutiny, or some combination of the two should apply to a mandated disclosure like FDA’s added sugars rule. This Paper explains that the added sugars rule is unique in the history of mandated nutrition labeling in that the rule is motivated largely by public health concerns and backed by reports that assert that consumers should limit their intake of added sugars. In contrast, correcting and preventing consumer deception has been a major driving force behind the remainder of FDA’s mandated nutrition labeling. Because of this distinct rationale, the added sugars rule does not fit neatly into any currently existing compelled commercial speech test. This Paper uses the added sugars rule to highlight the deficiencies in the existing tests. Finally, this Paper proposes a new compelled commercial speech test that would adequately balance the interest of all of the effected parties: the government, the public, and food manufacturers.

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