The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is working on a raft of policy change, including an overhaul of the Nutrition Facts Panel, a ban on trans fats and implementation of the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA).
Lee Sanders, senior vice president of government relations and public affairs for ABA, said from a policy standpoint, the past year had been the busiest in 20 years.
“The frenetic activity can be overwhelming, so for that reason we have to be organized – you have to prioritize,” she told BakeryandSnacks.com.
“There are over 63 issues our industry is monitoring and we’ve really had to prioritize. So from there, we’ve established tiers of issues and talked to our members and committee and done a survey on what the most important issues are so we can really, with laser precision, target in on those issues.”
Regulation on food safety and labeling, for example, would likely hit at once, she said, so industry had to be ready.
“With the FSMA side, policies impact the way your processes are handled within your facility and then on the nutrition side it impacts all of your labels.”
Strength in numbers
Sanders said the ABA’s leadership of the Food and Beverage Issue Alliance – a collaboration of around 26 different trade organizations – had proved especially powerful.
The ABA spearheaded the Food and Beverage Issue Alliance alongside the American Frozen Food Institute around two years ago with a view to streamlining an industry voice on policy issues. The Food and Beverage Issue Alliance meets quarterly with the FDA.
“We wanted to go in as a unified group to the FDA,” she said. “…It’s very powerful in that you have an excellent cross-section of the entire food industry going in and sharing their concerns. Many of the issues are also issues for other groups, so being able to go in and talk generally about the policy concerns and them provide examples and talk about how it impacts your specific industry has been very, very educational for the agency.
“I think there is always strength in numbers. There’s going to be situations where there may be a more bakery-specific issue where we’d need to tackle that ourselves, but for the most part, when you work together with partners you can leverage the strength of all the group,” she said.
So, what are the critical issues?
From a timeline standpoint, Sanders said the revoke of GRAS (generally recognizes as safe) status on partially hydrogenated oils - or trans fats - would likely happen first.
But she said the ABA remained unhappy with the FDA’s decision.
“We’re concerned about the process the FDA has used. They’ve gone through a GRAS notification rather than a proposed rule. A proposed rule would require the agency to do a full economic impact analysis, small business analysis and environmental impact analysis and because they went through a GRAS status, they weren’t required to do these things,” she explained.
“So, we’ve done our best to talk about and demonstrate that our members have done a great job over the past seven years reformulating and moving away from trans, but there’s still a few products that do have trans in them. Palm oil producers are moving very quickly to develop new, healthier profile options but supplies for those, at this point, are limited.”
Sanders said the length of time given to industry to formulate out trans fats would be critical.
“It’s do-able, but it’s not going to happen overnight and some might understand that but we’ve done a good job trying to explain that.”
Sanders said the ABA remained concerned over ‘added sugar’ and ‘fiber’ definitions on changes to the Nutrition Facts Panel – set to be finalized in a year or so.
However, she said additional research had been brought forward which would help.
“The great news is that the International Life Science Institute are putting together a public database on fiber and that’s supposed to become public very soon, so I think that is something that will be very helpful for our industry, as well as for agencies, so they do include as many of the fiber sources as possible,” she said.
Similarly, the FDA was reviewing ‘added sugar’ research, she said, and could possibly put that section of the proposal up for comment again.
Sanders said seven proposals were out under FSMA around permitted controls, verification and transportation and logistics, among other things.
“These things are starting to move, and we’ll have to be ready.”
Every baker faced these forthcoming policy changes, she said, no matter what size.
“It’s about trying to come up with streamlined, simple solutions that can be applied across the board. That’s why it’s important for us to go in and talk to the agencies and talk about the issues the small companies are encountering.”