Just a few years ago, experts said it would be impossible to rid our industrial food supply of artificial trans fats. The ingredients had been around since the 1950s and were the main reason processed food didn’t spoil. But yesterday, June 16, 2015, FDA release its Final Determination Regarding Partially Hydrogenated Oils and gave industry until 2018 to eliminate the fats from their products. FDA said “there is no longer a consensus that . . . industrially-produced trans fats are generally recognized as safe for use in human food.” FDA noted that among the numerous potential health effects of these trans fats are an increased risk of heart attack and death.
As a practical matter, this means that starting in 2018, food companies can no longer add partially hydrogenated trans fats to their products. This includes partially hydrogenated forms of soybean oil, cottonseed oil, coconut oil, palm oil, and lard. Trans fat levels in food are way down from their peak in the 1990s, but they still show up in many packaged foods, such cookies, cakes, microwave popcorn, stick margarine, cake frosting, and coffee creamers, among a host of other junk foods.
This is all great and the media are covering the new rule from all angles, yada yada.
But what’s next on the FDA’s food agenda? Here’s a sampling:
- GMPs for Raw Fruits and Vegetables. FDA has been working on Good Manufacturing Practices for fruits and vegetables since 2011, when Congress passed the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011 and obligated FDA to come up with standards for “raw agricultural commodities.” The final rule is expected to be released in October 2015 and could be a game-changer for the fresh produce industry.
- Veterinary Feed Directive. FDA has been working on a rule that would reduce the number of antibiotics used in livestock intended for human consumption, in an effort to mitigate the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The final rule requires that the decision to administer an antibiotic be made by a veterinarian who has a client-patient relationship with the animal in question. The rule is effective October 1, 2015.
- Nutrition Labeling Revisions. FDA has been working on revising nutrition labels since at least 2008. It issued a proposed rule in 2014 that would require manufacturers to list added sugars, potassium and Vitamin D and that would also update serving size and daily nutritional allowance information. Notably, the proposed rule does not require that manufacturers label foods that contain GMOs. The docket closed in August 2014 but FDA has not yet issued a final rule.
- New Serving Size Rules. In 2014, FDA proposed a separate rule that would change the way serving sizes are calculated to account for data showing that the standard for what an American can “reasonably consume in one sitting” has changed. The comment period ended last June. FDA expects to issue the final rule in March 2016.
- Food Bioterrorism. In 2013, FDA proposed a rule to mitigate the threat of food bioterrorism. FDA proposes to require certain food facilities to maintain a “food defense plan.” A final rule is not expected until May 2016.
But we’d like FDA to address a few other issues sooner rather than later, as follows:
- Salt Intake. In 2010, the Institute of Medicine found that “Americans consume unhealthy amounts of sodium in their food, far exceeding public health recommendations” and issued a report on Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake in the United States. IOM said the only way to reduce salt consumption was to promulgate “new government standards for the acceptable level of sodium.” FDA has jurisdiction over the GRAS status of salt, and could revisit that regulation to reflect our new scientific understanding of the public health dangers. We think the time is now.
- Advertising Food to Children. In 2011, the Federal Trade Commission and FDA promulgated voluntary standards for advertising food to children. The standards addressed the nutritional content of the advertising, not the medium or method of the advertising, and even then, left the industry to self-regulate. FDA and FTC could impose meaningful limits on advertising food to children, whether that advertising appears on television and social media or at the point of sale, and we think there’s no time like the present.
We’d like to know what you think FDA should focus on next, the best suggestions to be shared in a future blog post.