- Speech by
Susan T. Mayne, Ph.D.
Director - Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN)
Welcome to today’s public meeting on “Horizontal Approaches to Food Standards of Identity Modernization.”
It’s been about one year and a half since FDA launched its multi-year Nutrition Innovation Strategy as an important part of our efforts to reduce preventable death and chronic disease related to poor nutrition. The NIS, as we call it, continues to be a high priority for Acting Commissioner Ned Sharpless and for me.
One way to reduce preventable death and chronic disease related to nutrition is to empower consumers with information to make healthy food choices. We’ve made much progress in many important areas such as putting calories on the menu, implementing the first major update to the Nutrition Facts label, modernizing claims, and continuing our efforts to reduce sodium in foods. And we are close to proposing a new definition for the “Healthy” claim on food labels and have been working diligently on the claim “Natural.”
Another way we are seeking to reduce preventable death and disease related to poor nutrition is by encouraging industry to innovate to produce healthier foods that consumers want. As part of this effort, FDA is exploring ways to modernize our standards of identity. We know that many standards were established decades ago and have not been recently amended to reflect changes in consumer expectations or opportunities for innovation – including the ability to produce healthier foods. We want to modernize our Standards of Identity program in a manner that will:
- protect consumers against economic adulteration,
- maintain the basic nature, essential characteristics, and nutritional integrity of food, and
- promote industry innovation and provide flexibility to encourage manufacturers to produce more healthful foods.
We can’t do this without input from you. Fortunately, we know that many of our stakeholders are interested in this topic. t looks like a pretty full house today and we have hundreds of participants joining us via webcast. We appreciate the dialogue we had at our July 2018 public meeting on NIS, where we held two sessions on standards of identity. We look forward to building on those discussions and expect a vibrant dialogue today.
One of the themes that emerged from the 2018 public meeting relates to horizontal standards, our main topic for today. Participants indicated that given FDA’s limited resources and the hundreds of standards of identity that exist, updating every individual standard may not be a feasible modernization strategy. Horizontal standards, which cross categories of standardized foods, would allow FDA to efficiently make broad changes that could impact many standardized foods. We agree that a horizontal approach is worth pursuing, especially when it comes to facilitating industry innovation and encouraging the production of more nutritious foods. That does not mean we won’t change individual standards of identity as appropriate. But horizontal standards make sense given our modernization goals. Before we move forward with the agenda, I will mention that there are several other activities related to standards of identity underway at CFSAN. For example, FDA is working on a final rule to amend the standard of identity for yogurt to, among other things, better facilitate technological advances in the industry. We are also working to revoke the standards of identity for French dressing and frozen cherry pie.
Additionally, we plan to reopen the comment period on the 2005 proposed rule on General Principles and Food Standards Modernization. The general principles would establish criteria to use in evaluating whether to establish, revise or eliminate a food standard. We look forward to engaging with all of you on this important topic in the future.
As a separate matter, CFSAN has issued a Request for Information entitled, “Use of the Names of Dairy Foods in the Labeling of Plant-Based Products” to help FDA understand how consumers use plant-based products with names that include the names of dairy foods such as milk and cheese. We issued this notice to obtain data and better understand whether consumers are aware of and understand differences in the basic nature, characteristics, ingredients, and nutritional content of plant-based products and their dairy counterparts. FDA received more than 13,000 comments in response to our request, and we are currently reviewing the comments and information provided to determine our next steps in this area to ensure consumers are not misled.
We are also working to make sure that our efforts on standards of identity are aligned with other related initiatives underway that I mentioned earlier, such as updating the “Healthy” claim and sodium reduction. For example, are there horizontal approaches where industry could substitute certain ingredients in a product, and we would still consider it a standardized food? For instance, some companies might want to use a salt substitute for part of the sodium chloride in a product to promote sodium reduction. We want to be sure that our recommendations for modernizing standards of identity align with, and build upon, other ongoing NIS work.
In closing, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Rosalyn Murphy-Jenkins for joining us today. She is Director of the Labeling and Program Delivery Staff at USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. As you know, USDA has its own program for issuing standards of identity or composition for meat and poultry products. We look forward to partnering with USDA as we pursue modernizing our standards of identity.