The Year of Government Regulation

February 04, 2010

Although the economy is still foremost on the minds of many Americans, food safety and nutrition are of primary concern to many shoppers, according to The Food Institute.

Although the economy is still foremost on the minds of many Americans, food safety and nutrition are of primary concern to many shoppers, according to The Food Institute. This is borne out in the just-released National Grocers Association 2010 Consumer Survey report. More than three quarters of the respondents said nutrition and health information was either very or somewhat important to them.

At least a portion of this increased attention is likely the result of rising government scrutiny of food products, notes The Food Institute, which has tracked such developments on an ongoing basis for its members since 1928. And there are many topics on the regulatory front that the government, largely via the Food and Drug Administration and Federal Trade Commission as well as state and local government agencies, is already looking at and likely to take some action on the 2010.

And just last week at the FMI Midwinter Conference, FMI President Leslie Sarasin called 2010 The Year of regulation!
So exactly what does the Food Institute see as some of the hot regulatory topics facing the food industry this year?

The Federal Trade Commission started off the year by stating that it would be taking a close look at nutritional claims made by food marketers. The director of the agency’s northeast regional office said, “More and more ‘good products’ are making health claims, and I think you’re going to see more enforcement there.”

And the FTC is not the only entity doing so. The Kellogg Company late last year entered into a settlement with the Oregon Department of Justice under which the company agreed to discontinue use of the claim “helps support your child’s immunity” for breakfast cereals with added vitamins A,B,C, and E. As part of its settlement, the company contributed 500,000 cases of the cereal bearing the claim to the Oregon Food Bank and Feeding America.

And more than likely, such agencies will continue to crack down on companies, and we will see more joint enforcement between groups such as the FTC and FDA.

Look for some possible action on the Food and Drug Administration proposal to define the term "gluten-free" for voluntary use in the labeling of foods. A definition for the term "gluten-free" established by FDA would assist those who have celiac disease (also known as celiac sprue or gluten-sensitive enteropathy) and their caregivers to more easily identify packaged foods that are safe for persons with celiac disease to eat.

But some action on this front has been anticipated since back in 2004, when the agency was directed to address this issue in the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004.

The Food and Drug Administration last year extended the comment period for its notice requesting comments and scientific data on acrylamide in food. Comments were due by January 25, 2010. The FDA’s request was originally intended to coincide with the release of a National Institutes of Health report on a two-year study on acrylamide. The release of that report has now similarly been delayed until early 2010.

For those that do not know, acrylamide is a chemical that can form in some foods during certain types of high-temperature cooking. FDA is seeking information on practices that manufacturers have used to reduce acrylamide in food and the reductions they have been able to achieve in acrylamide levels. 

New York City, together with 40 other city and State governments and national health organizations, announced the launch of the National Salt Reduction Initiative (NSRI).

The NSRI is a voluntary effort to persuade food manufacturers and restaurants to reduce the salt content of their products. Its goal is to reduce sodium in packaged foods and restaurant foods by 25% over five years, thereby reducing sodium intake in the U.S. population by 20% over the same period. The NSRI claims that a sodium reduction of this magnitude would prevent tens of thousands of premature deaths each year.

The initiative is being coordinated by New York City but includes 26 other city and State government agencies and 17 national health organizations (including the American Medical Association and American Heart Association). In addition, the NSRI claims that Federal agencies are aware of the initiative and supportive of its work. According to press reports, so far only a few companies (e.g., Subway, A&P) have committed to meeting the NSRI salt reduction targets. The NSRI is modeled on a similar program in the United Kingdom.

These are just a few of the topics the Food Institute is following on the regulatory front. Subscribe to The Food Institute at