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Speech

Event Title
Remarks at the Public Meeting on FDA's Comprehensive, Multi-Year Nutrition Innovation Strategy
July 26, 2018

Speech by
Scott Gottlieb, M.D.
Leadership Role
Commissioner of Food and Drugs - Food and Drug Administration

Remarks by Scott Gottlieb, M.D.
Commissioner of Food and Drugs
Public Meeting on FDA's Comprehensive, Multi-Year Nutrition Innovation Strategy

Rockville, MD

(Remarks as prepared for delivery)

Good morning. I want to welcome all of you to this public meeting on FDA’s Nutrition Innovation Strategy. 

I’m pleased to see how many people we have participating in person and via webcast.

In March, I announced this strategy as a way to reduce the burden of chronic disease by improving the nutritional status of Americans.  I described how consumers want more information about the foods they eat, and that these trends provide a unique opportunity to empower individuals who are using nutrition to improve their health and the health of their families. 

The food industry is innovating to give people more of what they want, and we need to encourage this trend. I believe that FDA can help advance the public health by both empowering consumers with information and facilitating industry innovation toward healthier foods that consumers want. 

As a person who cares about his health and a parent who wants his children to have long, healthy lives, I have a deep personal interest in this strategy. I think we all do.

Whether we’re in government or the food industry, we’re all consumers, we have families, and we all have a stake in the success of this strategy and it hits home.
That is what this public meeting is all about.

We want to hear your ideas about how we can advance proposals to modernize our approach to better protect public health, while removing barriers to innovation. 

Leveraging nutrition to advance public health is one of my top priorities as Commissioner.  The Nutrition Innovation Strategy provides us with a tremendous opportunity to take a fresh look at what can be done to reduce preventable death and disease related to poor nutrition.

We can’t change all the factors that contribute to chronic diseases. But improved nutrition is one we can change if we all work together. The fact that FDA regulates 80% of America’s food supply highlights the potential impact of our efforts to take a fresh look at our nutrition-related responsibilities.

FDA has a long history of working to provide the American public with tools to make informed dietary choices. 

Most recently, we’ve been working to implement the first major overhaul of the Nutrition Facts label in more than 20 years, and to provide consumers with calorie and other nutrition information in certain eating establishments, such as restaurants.  We also continue to have a strong interest in voluntary efforts to reduce sodium in the food supply. This is one of the most effective public health actions we can take. And we’re awaiting the results of the National Academy of Medicine’s Dietary Reference Intake study to inform our next steps. These activities will continue to be high priorities for FDA. 

Today, I’m delighted that this meeting will be taking a closer look at three new elements of our strategy—modernizing our approach to claims, modernizing standards of identity, and modernizing ingredient information. 

These three new elements have the potential to help the many consumers that are seeking healthier options and are more interested in learning about the food they eat. 

We’ve also heard requests from many in the food industry to modernize claims, ingredient information, and standards of identity. Many in the food industry want to provide consumers with the foods they seek—more nutritious offerings and clearer labeling for greater transparency.  But I know that food producers sometimes find that the FDA’s historical approach in these areas creates barriers to innovation.

We see a market that’s actively trying to respond to consumer expectations, and FDA can help by providing a framework for encouraging industry to compete on the nutritional attributes of their products.  We need a policy framework that allows consumers to readily identify healthier options.  We need a framework that inspires the marketplace to reformulate foods at an affordable cost, with science driving reformulation decisions.

The Nutrition Innovation Strategy is aimed at providing such a framework. It’s designed to empower consumers with modernized food labels.  And it’s designed to empower manufacturers to innovate to meet consumer demand.

In a moment, I’ll turn to Dr. Mayne to provide more detail on some of the new areas of focus.

And given my interview with Politico last week and all of the social media comments on almonds and lactation, Susan volunteered me to cover standards of identity. I’m done, for now, talking about the physical attributes of almonds, and what they’re capable of doing. All I’ll say is they taste great.

Calls for FDA to take a closer look at the standards of identity for dairy products are one of the many reasons why we’re interested in modernizing our standards of identity.  And this is also one of the first areas where we are going to have an active public process for reviewing our standard and how consumers understand the use of terms like milk on both animal-derived and plant-based products.

We want to see if inherent nutritional characteristics and other differences between these products are well-understood by consumers when making dietary choices for themselves and their families.  We must better understand if consumers are being misled as a result of the way the term milk is being applied.

We’ve seen a proliferation of products like soy and almond beverages calling themselves milk, and we’ve been questioned on whether we have been enforcing our act with respect to standards of identity and food names.

The challenge for us is, as a regulatory agency, we can’t unilaterally change our regulatory approach if we have a history of enforcing our provisions a certain way.  We must go through a public process. That’s what I’ve committed to initiating.

We’ve already encouraged a number of stakeholders that have met with us on this issue to submit comments to the docket for this public meeting. And we continue to encourage interested stakeholders to do so.  In the late summer or early fall, we’ll be reviewing the information gathered and posting an additional request for information with a specific set of questions pertaining to consumer awareness and understanding of the use of milk and other dairy terms on plant-based alternatives.  The feedback we receive will help inform a revisiting of our enforcement policy for these terms.

Over the next year, we will be looking at next steps which could include issuing guidance for industry and a new compliance policy outlining our enforcement approach.

In the meantime, we’ll continue to take actions to address situations when we become aware of products with misleading labels that have a high likelihood of consumer misunderstanding as to the basic nature of the product. This is especially true when we think nutrition and therefore public health may be at risk.

While dairy has received a lot of attention of late, I also want to recognize that there are many standards of identity that need to be revisited.  Today, we’re here to discuss more broadly the framework for standards of identity. After all, there are nearly 300 of these standards of identity on our books. Some of them were created in my grandparents generation. 

We want to hear feedback on how the agency should assess whether a standard of identity reflects consumer expectations about that food. We also what to hear about changes in food technology, nutritional science, fortification practices, and marketing trends that we should be aware of when reviewing and updating these standards.

We’ve heard concerns that standards of identity can sometimes cause industry to avoid reformulating products to reduce things like fat or sodium content because of the limitations of these standards. So, we want to hear about how modifications in our standards can facilitate the production of more healthful foods.

We want to gather input from a wide range of stakeholders, and we encourage out-of-the-box ideas. 

Dr. Mayne is up next, and she will be talking to you more about our other two areas of focus for modernization.

Dr. Mayne is director of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition and a recognized expert on nutrition and chronic disease prevention, with years of policy experience in this area. 

I look forward to working with her and her team as we move forward. And I’m optimistic about the new direction we’re taking to better leverage nutrition as a way to advance public health.

With the diversity of stakeholders attending today, I’m sure that today’s dialogue will be lively and informative. 

We need diverse opinions to help inform our decisions on how to improve our policy framework in a way that allows consumers to identify healthier options and provides incentives to manufacturers to develop what the consumer wants.

And we appreciate very much, your partnership as we begin this dialogue. And I can assure you that this dialogue will continue as we make progress in developing our proposals.

Thank you.