WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration, in the Fall 2018 Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions issued by the Executive Office of the President on Oct. 17, announced a “down payment” on its pledge to modernize current standards of identity for foods. That down payment comprised a proposal to revoke the current standards of identity for French salad dressing and frozen cherry pie.
The Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions is issued twice a year with the aim of providing a preview of federal agencies’ top regulatory priorities for the coming months.
Among the actions the F.D.A. said it will carry out in the coming months was advancing rulemaking to revoke outdated standards of identity, including standards of identity in French salad dressing and frozen cherry pie.
“This is a down payment on a comprehensive effort to modernize food standards to reduce regulatory burden and remove old-fashioned barriers to innovation,” said Scott Gottlieb, M.D., commissioner of the F.D.A. “To support this effort, we’ll also reopen the comment period on a proposed rule seeking to establish general principles to update the framework for standards of identity.”
Dr. Gottlieb was referring to a comment period on a rule proposed jointly by the F.D.A. and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service in 2005, which would have established general principles that would be the first step in modernizing and updating the framework for food standards (also known as standards of identity).
Modernizing food standards of identity has been a long-standing goal of the F.D.A. under both this and previous administrations. What marks the announcement in the Fall 2018 Unified Agenda as different is it suggests a more active and comprehensive approach to modernizing food standards of identity may be getting underway.
It was expected the reopened comment period on general principles and food standards modernization will add to the information being gathered by the F.D.A.
In July 2018, in connection with a public meeting on the F.D.A.’s Nutrition Innovation Strategy that was issued in March, Dr. Gottlieb sought information on how the agency should assess whether a standard of identity reflects consumer expectations about that food.
“We also want to hear about changes in food technology, nutritional science, fortification practices and marketing trends that we should be aware of when reviewing and updating these standards,” he said. “We’ve heard concerns that these standards of identity can sometimes cause industry to avoid reformulating products to reduce things like fat or sodium content because of the limitations of these standards, so we want to hear about how modifications in our standards can facilitate the production of more healthful foods.”
In September, the F.D.A. requested comments and information as it examined its approach to the use of dairy food names such as “milk,” “cheese” or “yogurt” in labeling of plant-based foods and beverages.
The F.D.A. said dairy products such as milk, yogurt and certain cheeses have standards of identity set by regulation. The regulations were established under the foods’ common or usual names. Those names have continued in common usage and are recognized by the public as identifying dairy foods described in the standards.
“More recently, these names have appeared in the labeling of plant-based products as part of the name or statement of identity for the product,” the F.D.A. said, providing as examples “soy milk,” “almond milk” and “vegan mozzarella cheese.”
The F.D.A. said it supported choice and innovation in the marketplace and recognized some consumers may prefer to use plant-based products instead of dairy products for a variety of reasons.
“But the F.D.A. has concerns that the labeling of some plant-based products, which can vary widely in their nutritional content, is leading consumers to believe that those products have the same key nutritional attributes as dairy products,” the F.D.A. said. “The agency wants to make sure that labeling plant-based products with names that include names of dairy foods is not misleading to consumers.”
Dr. Gottlieb noted, “Such public health concerns are one of the reasons why we’re prioritizing this effort to take a closer look at the standards of identity for dairy products as part of our overall process for modernizing our standards of identity and advancing the information consumers have to inform their diets.”