Do food standards of identity need refreshing? FDA to hold public meeting

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Picture: Silvia Jansen-istockphoto
Picture: Silvia Jansen-istockphoto
The FDA will hold a public meeting on September 27 on modernizing food standards of identity, which some stakeholders believe are out of date and may impede innovation.

FDA is seeking input about changes that "may provide manufacturers with additional flexibility to use, for example, new technologies and new or novel ingredients without impacting the basic nature and essential characteristics of standardized foods."

According to the FDA, modernized standards should (1) protect consumers against economic adulteration; (2) maintain the basic nature, essential characteristics and nutritional integrity of food; and (3) promote industry innovation and provide flexibility to encourage manufacturers to produce healthier foods. 

The FDA, say critics, has fluctuated unhelpfully when it comes to enforcing standards of identity for products such as 'milk' (the lacteal secretions from cows) and 'mayonnaise' (an egg-based product).

When it comes to plant ‘milks' for example, the FDA challenged the term ‘soy milk’ in warning letters to manufacturers in 2008 and 2012 (claiming breaches of the standard of identity for milk), but then maintained radio silence until early 2018, when former commissioner Scott Gottlieb said he was actively looking at this issue.

The agency also raised eyebrows in 2015 by telling Hampton Creek (now JUST, Inc) it could keep its ‘Just Mayo’ brand​​​ name​​​​ for its egg-free spread (which did not comply with the egg-based standard of identity for mayonnaise​​​​ ), with minor tweaks to the label, just weeks after accusing it of violating the standard in question.

With new technology now enabling firms such as Perfect Day, Clara Foods​​ ​​and Memphis Meats​​ ​​​to produce proteins that precisely​​​ replicate their animal-based counterparts (If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck…)​​​, the standards of identity debate is not just about almond milk vs dairy milk, or faba butter vs dairy butter, noted commentators we spoke to on this issue last year.

Indeed, there is likely "much more driving it ​​[the FDA's probe into standards of identity] than the recent innovations in plant-based dairy substitutes," ​​speculated Adam Fox, a partner at law firm Squire Patton Boggs.

Find out more​ about the meeting, taking place at the Hilton Washington DC/Rockville Hotel, 1750 Rockville Pike, Rockville, MD.

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