Florida orange juice industry worried by obesity campaign

The Florida Department of Citrus may get into a fight with one of the most politically powerful people in the U.S., who goes by the name “Obama.”

No, not the guy in the Oval Office.

As part of first lady Michelle Obama’s campaign against childhood obesity, the American Beverage Association has come out in support of her effort to prominently display calorie counts on the front panels of U.S. beverage products.

Citrus Department officials are concerned that such a requirement would drive down orange juice sales, already in a three-month slump since the beginning of the year.

“I’ve heard about it, and I’m equally concerned,” Bob Behr, vice president at Florida’s Natural Growers in Lake Wales, the nation’s third-largest orange juice seller, told fellow members of the Florida Citrus Commission. “We saw what happened with the low-carb diet fad and how it affected our business.”

Florida orange juice industry worried by obesity campaign  Behr referred to the period roughly from 2001 to 2003 when low-carbohydrate diet plans became wildly popular. Food manufacturers with high-carb products, such as baked goods and sugary beverages, said the fad hurt sales.

The Food and Drug Administration is taking comments until July 28 on a new food-labeling regulation to require up-front calorie labeling.

Ken Keck, the Citrus Department’s executive director, agreed the focus on calories alone and the exclusion of orange juice’s health benefits could drive consumers away. An 8-ounce glass of orange juice has about 110 calories but also significant amounts of Vitamin C, folic acid and potassium.

Keck said the department may work with the Nutrition Rich Foods Coalition to push for an exemption from the requirement for such products.

One political problem: The two largest OJ retailers are members of the beverage association. They are PepsiCo, which owns the No. 1 Tropicana brand, and Coca-Cola North America, which owns Minute Maid.

The Ledger in Lakeland is part of the New York Times Regional Media Group.

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