WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service this week issued a joint proposed rule to establish a set of general principles for evaluating whether to revise, eliminate, or create new standards of identity for food.
The shared effort is a step in the agencies' food standards modernization initiative.
Standards of identity define what a given food product is, its name and the ingredients that must be used or may be used in the manufacture of the food. Food standards ensure that consumers get what they expect when they purchase certain food products, the agencies said.
The food standards prescribe minimum amounts of certain ingredients, such as meat or poultry or milk fat; maximum fat and water contents; methods of processing, cooking and preparation; permit optional safe and suitable ingredients; and/or identify expected or characterizing ingredients. Food standards ensure that the basic nature of foods is maintained to meet consumers' expectations no matter where they buy the product.
"Today's action starts us down the road on a set of general principles that mark a significant step toward modernizing food standards," said Acting F.S.I.S. Administrator Barbara J. Masters. "The rule will likely encourage the development of food products with better nutritional profiles and stimulate innovations in food processing technology. The rule, if adopted, will allow both agencies to better utilize resources to better protect public health."
Recent technological advances in the food industry have led to increases in petitions to modify food standards. It is intended that the general principles will lead to the updating of existing standards or the creation of new standards with the goal of allowing industry to continue to produce safe and wholesome products while stimulating technological innovation.
"These proposed changes to the food standards process will optimize use of new food processing and packaging technologies in the development of food products geared to the needs of today's consumer," said Dr. Robert Brackett, director of F.D.A.'s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. "Moreover, this is an excellent example of the type of collaboration between the nation's food safety agencies that ensures the American consumer safer, more diverse foods on the grocery shelves."
F.S.I.S. and F.D.A. share the responsibility for ensuring that food labels are truthful and not misleading. F.S.I.S. has authority to regulate the labeling for meat, poultry, and processed egg products while F.D.A. regulates the labeling of all other foods.
All written comments should be submitted by August 19 to: F.S.I.S. Docket Clerk, Docket # 95-051P, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service, Room 102, Cotton Annex, 300 12th Street, SW, Washington, D.C. 20250.