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Guidance for Industry: FDA's Implementation of "Qualified Health Claims": Questions and Answers; Final Guidance

Contains Nonbinding Recommendations

May 12, 2006

Comments and suggestions regarding this document may be submitted at any time. Submit comments to Division of Dockets Management (HFA-305), Food and Drug Administration, 5630 Fishers Lane, rm. 1061, Rockville, MD 20852.

For questions regarding this document, contact Paula Trumbo at the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) at 301-436-2579 (Updated phone: 240-402-2579) or email paula.trumbo@fda.hhs.gov

Additional copies are available from:
Office of Nutritional Products, Labeling, and Dietary Supplements, HFS-800
Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition
Food and Drug Administration, 5100 Paint Branch Parkway
College Park, MD 20740
http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/guidance.html

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Food and Drug Administration
Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN)
May 12, 2006


Contains Nonbinding Recommendations

Guidance for Industry
FDA's Implementation of "Qualified Health Claims":
Questions and Answers

This guidance represents the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA's) current thinking on this topic. It does not create or confer any rights for or on any person and does not operate to bind FDA or the public.  You may use an alternative approach if the approach satisfies the requirements of the applicable statutes and regulations. If you want to discuss an alternative approach, please contact the FDA staff responsible for implementing this guidance. If you cannot identify the appropriate FDA staff, call the appropriate number listed on the title page of this guidance.

Background

  1. Why is FDA providing for "qualified" health claims?

    Through the Better Nutrition Information for Consumer Health Initiative (see Consumer Health Information for Better Nutrition Initiative, issued July 10, 2003), FDA acknowledged that consumers benefit from more information on food labels concerning diet and health. As part of this initiative, the agency established interim procedures whereby "qualified" health claims can be made not only for dietary supplements but for conventional foods as well (see Interim Procedures for Qualified Health Claims in the Labeling of Conventional Human Food and Human Dietary Supplements). Moreover, past court decisions have clarified the need to provide for health claims based on less science evidence rather than just on the standard of significant scientific agreement (SSA), as long as the claims do not mislead the consumers. FDA began considering qualified health claims under its interim procedures on September 1, 2003.

  2. What are the similarities and differences between SSA health claims established under the 1993 regulations and the newer "qualified" health claims?

    Both types of health claims characterize a relationship between a substance (specific food component or a specific food) and a disease (e.g., lung cancer or heart disease) or health-related condition (e.g., high blood pressure), and are supported by scientific evidence (see 21 CFR 101.14). Health claims generally undergo review by FDA through a petition process. All SSA health claims as provided for by Congress in 1990 (see Significant Scientific Agreement in the Review of Health Claims for Conventional Foods and Dietary Supplements) must meet the SSA standard. Past court decisions resulting in qualified health claims on dietary supplements focused on whether a manufacturer could make statements about diet/disease relationships when the science supporting the claim did not meet the significant scientific agreement standard, provided that the claim about the relationship was stated or "qualified" in such a way as to not mislead consumers. Thus, qualified health claims differ from SSA health claims in that they must be accompanied by a disclaimer or otherwise qualified.

  3. Why are the procedures for qualified health claims "interim"? 

    FDA believes that more information is needed before the agency can establish final procedures to provide for qualified health claims, and therefore issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) to solicit comments on the agency's options. FDA has and continues to conduct research in order to obtain information about appropriate qualifying language for use with the claims and the extent to which consumers can understand different levels of supporting science. The agency is also interested in knowing if there are better formats for presenting the supporting science than through the use of words alone.

    The interim procedures for qualified health claims are available on the FDA website in the form of two documents: Interim Procedures for Qualified Health Claims in the Labeling of Conventional Human Food and Human Dietary Supplements (see Interim Procedures for Qualified Health Claims in the Labeling of Conventional Human Food and Human Dietary Supplements) and Interim Guidance for Evidence-based Ranking System for Scientific Data (see Interim Evidence-based Ranking System for Scientific Data).

  4. Will rulemaking for qualified health claims take place?

    FDA is currently considering various options regarding the development of proposed regulations related to qualified health claims. In the meantime, the agency plans to review qualified health claim petitions on a case-by-case basis to determine whether to issue a letter concerning the use of enforcement discretion for a qualified health claim or to deny the qualified health claim (Consumer Health Information for Better Nutrition Initiative).

  5. What is a letter of enforcement discretion?

    A letter of enforcement discretion is a letter issued by FDA to the petitioner specifying the nature of the qualified health claim for which FDA intends to consider the exercise of its enforcement discretion. If a letter of enforcement discretion has been issued, FDA does not intend to object to the use of the claim specified in the letter, provided that the products that bear the claim are consistent with the stated criteria.

    All letters of enforcement discretion will be posted on the FDA website. Once the letter is posted on the website, all manufacturers will have notice about how the agency intends to exercise its enforcement discretion on the use of the qualified health claim.

  6. How are health claims different from structure/function claims? 

    Both SSA and qualified health claims characterize the relationship between a substance and its ability to reduce the risk of a disease or health-related condition (see 21 CFR 101.14). Structure/function claims describe the effect that a substance has on the structure or function of the body and do not make reference to a disease. An example of a structure/function claim is "Calcium builds strong bones." Structure/function claims must be truthful and not misleading and are not pre-reviewed or authorized by FDA. [21 U.S.C. 343(r)(6); 21 CFR 101.93]

  7.  How are health claims different from statements about dietary guidance? 

    Health claims characterize a relationship between a substance (specific food or food component) and a disease or health-related condition (see 21 CFR 101.14). Both elements of 1) a substance and 2) a disease are present in a health claim. Dietary guidance does not contain both elements (and therefore does not constitute a health claim (see 58 FR 2478 at 2487; January 6, 1993), but may contain one element or another. Typically, dietary guidance statements make reference to a category of foods (i.e., a grouping that is not readily characterized compositionally) and not to a specific substance. The following illustrations may be helpful:

    Two examples of an authorized health claim, which by definition must contain the elements of a substance and a disease or health-related condition, are: "Diets low in sodium may reduce the risk of high blood pressure, a disease associated with many factors" and "Diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol that include 25 grams of soy protein a day may reduce the risk of heart disease".

    An example of dietary guidance, which does not refer to a specific substance but rather refers to a broad class of foods without an expressed or implied connection to a specific substance that is present the class of foods is: "Diets rich in fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of some types of cancer". One element is present, but not both. It is not a health claim because it cannot reasonably be understood to be about a specific substance.

    A dietary guidance statement that refers to a specific food or food component but not a disease or health-related condition is: "Carrots are good for your health, " or "Calcium is good for you." Again, one element is present, but not both.

  8. How is dietary guidance provided for on food labels? 

    Truthful, non-misleading dietary guidance statements may be used on food labels, and do not undergo pre-review by FDA. However, once the food is marketed with the statement, FDA can consider whether the statement meets the requirement to be truthful and not misleading (see 21 CFR 101.14).

    FDA, as part of its recent Better Nutrition Information for Consumer Health Initiative, recognized that scientifically sound and non-misleading dietary guidance statements may be useful to consumers when placed on food labels.

Procedures for Qualified Health Claims

  1. What are the regulatory procedures associated with qualified health claims?

    All health claims, whether SSA or qualified, require that a petition be submitted to FDA. The requirements for health claim petitions are specified in 21 CFR 101.70, and the general requirements for health claims are in 21 CFR 101.14. Both types of health claims can be applicable to conventional foods and dietary supplements, must characterize the substance's ability to reduce the risk of disease, and cannot be about mitigating or treating disease.

    Qualified health claims have differences that relate to scientific support, wording of the claim, use of enforcement discretion, and timelines.

  2. How is the science supporting a qualified health claim different from that for an SSA health claim? 

    SSA health claims require significant scientific agreement based on the totality of publicly available scientific evidence (see 21 CFR 101.14). Qualified health claims are still based on the totality of publicly available evidence but the scientific support does not have to be as strong as that for significant scientific agreement. Under its interim guidance (see Interim Evidence-based Ranking System for Scientific Data), FDA is tentatively providing for 3 levels of science below the Significant Scientific Agreement standard: good to moderate level of scientific agreement, low level of scientific agreement, and very low level of scientific agreement. The criteria for the scientific review are described in the interim guidance.

  3. How the language for qualified health claims is different?

    Qualified health claims language must be worded ("qualified") in such a way that consumers are not misled about the nature of the supporting science. As part of its interim guidance (see Interim Evidence-based Ranking System for Scientific Data), FDA has specified qualifying language for the 3 levels of scientific support below the Significant Scientific Agreement standard. FDA also notes that it may consider other qualifying language on a case-by-case basis.

  4. How do the regulatory procedures for qualified health claims differ from SSA health claims? 

    Petitions requesting an SSA health claim are evaluated under the Significant Scientific Agreement standard (see Significant Scientific Agreement in the Review of Health Claims for Conventional Foods and Dietary Supplements). If FDA decides that standard is met, it authorizes the claim through notice-and-comment rulemaking.

    Petitions requesting a qualified health claim are posted on the FDA web page for a 60-day public comment period. Qualified health claims meeting the interim procedures criteria are provided for by letters of enforcement discretion (as described above). The letter of enforcement discretion will be posted on the FDA web page. Petitions for a qualified health claim that have no credible scientific evidence for the claim may be denied. These letters will be posted on FDA's website.

  5. What is the procedural timeline for qualified health claims?
    • Within 15 days of receipt, FDA will acknowledge the petition.
    • Within 45 days of receipt, FDA will file the petition and a docket number will be assigned. Note: Petitions that do not meet content requirements as specified in 21 CFR 101.70 will not be filed and will be returned to the petitioner.
    • At the time of filing, FDA will post the petition on the FDA webpage for a 60-day public comment period. During this time, written comments may be submitted to the docket.
    • On or before 270 days after receipt of the petition, a final decision will be sent to the petitioner in the form of a letter as to whether FDA intends to exercise enforcement discretion with respect to a qualified health claim or deny the petition. The letter will be posted on FDA's website.
    • Extensions beyond 270 days can be granted upon mutual agreement between the petitioner and the agency.

Submitting a Petition

  1. How will FDA know that I wish to have my petition reviewed under the standards for a qualified health claim rather than those for an SSA health claim (i.e., under the Significant Scientific Agreement standard)? 

    The petitioner may indicate within the petition's cover letter that he/she is waiving the right to a review under the Significant Scientific Agreement standard and request that the petition be reviewed under the interim procedures for a qualified health claim. This request will result in FDA proceeding directly to the qualified health claim procedures and its 270-day timeline (see next question). In the absence of such a request, FDA contacts the petitioner to determine if they are petitioning for a SSA or qualified health claim.

  2. What information is required to be included in the petition? 

    The requirements of 21 CFR 101.70 apply. A general summary of these requirements follows.

    1. Preliminary Requirements (see 21 CFR 101.70(f)(A)) Explanation of how substance conforms to the requirements of CFR 101.14(b):
      • Relationship between substance and disease in U.S;
      • Substance contributes taste, aroma, nutritive value, or a technical effect listed in 21 CFR 170.3(o);
      • Substance is a food, food ingredient, or component that has been shown to be safe and lawful at levels necessary to justify a claim.
    2. Summary of Scientific data (see 21 CFR 101.70(f)(B))
    3. Analytical data to show amount of substance that is present in representative foods (see 21 CFR 101.70(f)(C))
    4. Proposed model health claim(s) (see 21 CFR 101.70(f)(D))
    5. Attachments (see 21 CFR 101.70(f)(E))
      • Scientific data supporting a claim:
        • Copies of computer literature searches;
        • Copy of all research articles relied upon for support of petition -- English only;
        • Information concerning adverse consequences pertinent to any segment of the US population.
    6. A claim for categorical exclusion or an environmental assessment (see 21 CFR 101.70(f)(F))

      NOTE: FDA encourages petitioners to specify whether they are requesting that their petition be reviewed as a qualified health claim, and that they waive review under the Significant Scientific Agreement standard.

  3. Where should I send the petition? 

    Mail the original and one copy of the petition (or a computer readable disk containing the petition) to the following address:

    Food and Drug Administration
    Office of Nutritional Products, Labeling and Dietary Supplements (HFS-800)
    5100 Paint Branch Parkway
    College Park, MD 20740

    Electronic submissions may also be emailed to: label.claims@cfsan.fda.gov

Other

  1.  Are there circumstances when FDA will not file a petition? 

    Yes, if the petition is incomplete in that it does not provide the required information that is summarized above (#15).