Obesity may become a federal regulatory issue

by Keith Nunes
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Obesity, obese on scale
Nutrition issues with the goal of reducing health care costs may be the focus of a new administration.

WASHINGTON — With implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act under way and the administration of President Barack Obama winding down, two Washington lawyers whose firms represent food and beverage companies were asked what new regulatory initiatives may be expected from a new administration during a session at the Grocery Manufacturers Association’s Science Forum. One issue to watch, both agreed, is obesity.

Ricardo Carvajal - Hyman, Phelps & Mcnamara
Ricardo Carvajal, director of the law firm Hyman, Phelps and McNamara

“I see it as an issue,” said Ricardo Carvajal, director of the law firm Hyman, Phelps and McNamara, during the session on April 20. “Because obesity has financial implications for health I would see either a Republican or Democratic administration work on the issue.”

Joseph Levitt, a partner in the law firm Hogan Lovells US L.L.P., added that health care costs may be reduced if consumers make better decisions regarding nutrition.

“It’s an issue that will drive health care costs down,” he said. “The challenge is nobody knows what to do about it. Nevertheless, I don’t think anybody is going to be able to let that go.”

He noted that F.S.M.A. will be in its implementation stage and new initiatives by a new administration are likely to focus on nutrition.

Mr. Carvajal added that there may be an intersection between obesity and food safety that also may prompt a new administration and the F.D.A. to focus on obesity.

“They (F.D.A.) are looking at what are the foods the government is encouraging people to eat (like fruits and vegetables) and asking if the industry and government are doing a good job on food safety,” he said. “That’s an interesting dynamic.”

Fresh fruits and vegetables
The F.D.A. is considering healthy foods the government encourages people to eat and the food safety of those items.

While new regulatory efforts may focus on obesity, it doesn’t mean efforts by the F.D.A. around food safety will lessen.

“I think the challenge on F.S.M.A. implementation is it is going to be like the seafood HACCP regulation, but on a broad scale,” Mr. Levitt said. “The seafood HACCP regulation was finalized in 1998. Fifteen years later F.D.A. is still taking action against seafood processors for not having HACCP plans.

“We have to think about F.S.M.A. implementation and what will happen in year 1 versus 5 and 10. In years 5 and 10 it will be much different. In year 1 they (F.D.A.) will want to know you are taking this seriously. Are you making serious mistakes? They will take action where a serious health threat occurs. Over time it is going to raise everybody to a common standard, but there are lots of companies and it does not happen overnight.”

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