Gottlieb Outlines FDA Nutrition Strategy, Affirms Several IDFA Priorities

The head of the Food and Drug Administration last week affirmed the importance of several of IDFA’s regulatory priorities when he announced a multi-year nutrition strategy plan for the agency. Speaking at the Consumer Federation of America’s National Food Policy Conference in Washington, D.C., FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., said FDA is reexamining food standards of identity to consider marketing trends and new nutrition science, and its goal is to maintain the basic nature and nutritional integrity of food while allowing flexibility for industry innovation.

Gottlieb highlighted dairy standards, including the agency’s work on modernizing the yogurt standard to support innovation, and noted that cheese standards prevent some cheesemakers from innovating with sodium substitutes. He also said FDA is moving ahead to update the criteria for “healthy” label claims. Changes may also be coming for nutrition claims that are broader than the current single nutrient claims to promote foods to encourage that Americans fall short of consuming, like low-fat dairy, he added.

Nutrition Innovation Strategy

Gottlieb explained FDA’s nutrition innovation strategy, a multi-year effort to reduce preventable death and disease related to poor nutrition. FDA will work to provide nutrition information to consumers and create new ways for food companies to make science-based claims and communicate their products’ nutritious attributes. Regarding dairy, Gottlieb said several changes to FDA’s standards of identity could help achieve this goal.

“It’s important that we take a fresh look at existing standards of identity in light of marketing trends and the latest nutritional science,” said Gottlieb. “For example, the standards of identity for certain cheeses don’t always permit the use of salt substitutes, which could be used to lower the sodium content of cheese. And we’ve been asked to modernize the standard of identity for yogurt to support the many innovations occurring in this food category. We’ll also look to eliminate standards that may not be necessary.”

In February IDFA called on FDA to change the standards of identity to allow cheesemakers to use sodium substitutes and to modernize its standards for yogurt. Read the list of 24 priority issues for regulatory reform that IDFA shared with FDA.

“It’s clear that our priorities and concerns about the need for standards modernization have resonated with this administration,” said Frye. “With updated standards of identity for yogurt and cheeses, dairy companies will be able to innovate and create new products that meet consumer demands and provide unique solutions that fit the health needs of many different Americans.”

Definition of ‘Healthy’

Gottlieb also said FDA intends to update the criteria for “healthy” label claims.

“But people eat foods, not nutrients. This is why we’re asking the important question of whether a modernized definition of ’healthy’ should go beyond nutrients to better reflect dietary patterns and food groups, like whole grains, low fat dairy, fruits and vegetables and healthy oils.”

FDA is also interested in exploring claims specifically for low-fat dairy and other products that are under consumed by Americans, he said.

 

Sodium Reduction

Gottlieb reaffirmed FDA’s commitment for reducing sodium in the diet by announcing plans to release updated short-term voluntary sodium targets in 2019. Two years ago, FDA requested input on a plan to push the food industry to reduce salt levels in more than 150 foods, including 13 cheeses, butter, dairy dips, pizza, snacks and baked goods. IDFA and the National Milk Producers Federation responded in December 2016, asking FDA to exempt the entire cheese category from the sodium reduction targets due to salt’s role in food safety and quality.

Read Gottlieb’s full remarks here.

National Food Policy Conference

The National Food Policy Conference is an annual meeting that examines key food policy issues affecting consumers, the food industry and government.  IDFA was a sponsor for the conference, and Cary Frye, IDFA senior vice president of regulatory affairs, introduced the keynote speaker, Carmen Rottenberg, acting deputy undersecretary at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. Rottenberg’s presentation focused on her department’s new efforts to reach consumers on social media, actions on proposals for poultry and hog regulations and updates on other food safety topics.

 

The conference lineup included other officials from FDA, USDA and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, as well as food and agriculture association representatives, food policy experts, nutritionists, agriculture and food industry journalists, agricultural companies and university professors.

In addition to Frye, the IDFA staff members who attended were John Allan, vice president of regulatory affairs and international standards; Emily Lyons, director of regulatory affairs and counsel; Donald Grady, manager of legislative affairs; and Taylor Boone, coordinator of regulatory affairs.