Farming’s transformation starts to change Africa

By Marshall Matz, as published in the Des Moines Register

Next month President Barack Obama is hosting an Africa summit with heads of state and corporate chief executive officers. The timing is excellent.

Africa’s unique green revolution, with its focus on smallholder farmers, is now moving beyond the tipping point. And as smallholder farmers make the transition from subsistence farming to successful entrepreneurs, the continent’s green revolution will fundamentally change the face of Africa.

Last month, the African Union met to mark the 10th anniversary of its comprehensive Africa agriculture development program. The program called on all African governments to invest at least 10 percent of their budgets in agriculture. The new goal is to at least double agriculture production by 2015, sustain annual agriculture GDP growth of at least 6 percent; triple intra-African trade in agricultural commodities and services; create job opportunities for 30 percent of the youth; and end hunger in Africa by 2025.

This bold agenda is doable. Half of those who are hungry in Africa are smallholder farmers. As they move from subsistence farming to entrepreneurs it will change the face of Africa.

While the White House summit will focus on many of the broad issues facing Africa, it will include agriculture and food security. Agriculture is the area where the president has the greatest opportunity to make his mark.

According to Strive Masiyiwa, founder and chairman of Econet Wireless, co-chair of GROW Africa, and chairman of the board of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, “With broad action on policy, investment and technology, Africa’s farmers can double their productivity within five years.”

The White House African leaders summit is not just important to Africa. It is important to the United States. Six of the fastest-growing economies in the world are in Africa, and Africa is becoming a major market and potential trading partner for U.S. companies.

Further, over half of all the underutilized and unused agricultural land in the world is in Africa. As a result, it is not possible to achieve global food security without Africa. Finally, Africa is an important strategic partner for U.S. national security.

As President Obama said in Tanzania last summer, “In our global economy, our fortunes are linked like never before. So, more growth and opportunity in Africa can mean more growth and opportunity in the United States. And this is not charity; this is self-interest. And that’s why a key element of my engagement with Africa, and a key focus during this trip, has been to promote trade and investment that can create jobs on both side of the Atlantic.”

The attention on African agriculture these past few years is already having a major impact on the ground as it reaches Africa’s smallholder farmers. The immediate focus in Africa is on the 18 African countries that comprise the continent’s two breadbasket regions.

The coordinator and spark plug for translating much of the political attention is the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, working with the African Union, the private sector and other stakeholders. Their bold initiative focuses on seed development, soil health, markets, capacity building, credit and public policy across the African continent.

Plant breeders supported by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa have so far developed over 440 new and improved crop varieties, many of them now starting to increase smallholder productivity. They have helped to establish and strengthen more than 80 private, African-owned and operated seed enterprises. These now produce more than 80,000 metric tons of certified seed of key staple food crops each year — up dramatically from less than 2,500 metric tons in 2006.

More than 1.5 million farmers are now using integrated soil fertility management technologies. Over 2,500 farmer organizations have received intensive business and management training, enabling them to become more sustainable and effective in meeting the needs of smallholder farmers. Some 20,000 agro dealers have been established in rural communities to distribute improved seeds, fertilizer and other inputs. The privately owned agro dealers are also providing extension services to their customers. A more detailed summary of the state of play on the ground in Africa can be found in the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa’s 2013 annual report.

At the end of 2013, Kofi Annan, the former secretary general of the United Nations, stepped down as chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa and became its chairman emeritus. In doing so, he said, “We can move forward together knowing that the transformation of African agriculture is now well under way, and has the momentum needed to achieve our shared vision of a uniquely African Green Revolution.”

The secretary general is correct. The African green revolution is well under way. President Obama has the opportunity to greatly increase the pace of that momentum by building on his past leadership and identifying specific goals for future action.

MARSHALL MATZ specializes in agriculture and global food security at OFW Law in Washington, D.C. He serves on the board of directors of the World Food Program USA and the Congressional Hunger Center. He was formerly counsel to the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee on Agriculture.

John Block: Getting Nothing Done

By John R. Block

Today, I want to talk to you about the deficit – not the dollar deficit. That’s for another day. I want to talk about the deficit of action, the deficit of responsibility.

The U.S. Congress and the President have failed the people. The end of this fiscal year is fast approaching and the Congress (once again) has not completed the appropriation process for next year’s spending. The House Ag Appropriations bill still has not been passed. The Senate Ag bill is stalled and going nowhere.

There is very little time left. The house is scheduled to be in session 4 more days this month – zero days in August – only 10 days in September and 2 days in October.

We’re not going to complete the appropriations process. We’ll do what we have done before. We’ll pass a continuing resolution to keep the government running and funded until after the November mid-term election. Then, the Congress will vote the funding for next year.

Why don’t they get the work done on schedule? The answer is they don’t want to vote on issues now because their vote might hurt their chances of getting reelected. Harry Reid, leading the Senate, is sitting on a basket of bills that the House has approved. He just sits on them. As an example, if he were to allow his Senate Democrats a vote on a bill to stop EPA’s attack on coal-fired plants, it might pass. Coal state Democrats would vote for it. They would have to if they want to get reelected.

President Obama isn’t up for reelection. Why isn’t he in there leading to get things done? He had said at one time he wanted to reform the tax code “riddled with complicated loopholes.” He has done nothing. He wants to negotiate a European trade deal and a Pacific agreement. He doesn’t even have “trade promotion authority.” Any hope we had for immigration reform is lost for now with the thousands of Central American children streaming through our unsecured border.

The list of important issues that need to be dealt with is endless. If you wonder why the Congress is in session for only 16 days over the next three months, it’s because they are on the campaign trail. My advice to you is – go to their events and ask them why they aren’t getting anything done. Tell them, “Quit telling us what you’re going to do. Just do it.”

John Block was Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1981-1985, where he played a key role in the development of the 1985 Farm Bill.

OFW Law Celebrates 35 Years of Successes: Food/Dietary Supplements Practice Team

By Michael J. O’Flaherty

Thirty-five (35) years ago, the Washington, DC law firm presently known as Olsson Frank Weeda Terman Matz PC, or simply “OFW Law,” originated as Olsson and Frank, P.C.  It was comprised of two (2) founding attorneys, Philip C. (Phil) Olsson and Richard L. (Rick) Frank, who left another DC law firm to start their own.  Anita Harris (still with the firm as its Director of Finance) moved with them as their legal administrator.

Since its 3-person inception, OFW Law has represented a growing number of conventional food and dietary supplement clients, including manufacturers, distributors, food service establishments, and trade associations.  Over the years, the firm’s Conventional Foods and Dietary Supplements practice groups have grown considerably.  Practitioners at the firm presently engaged in addressing issues in these areas now number 15 and include both attorneys and government relations personnel (i.e., Senior Policy Advisors).

OFW Law’s food/dietary supplements practice team has attained countless successes for our clients in its 35-year history.  Many of these successes were (and must remain) confidential matters.  Nevertheless, some examples of our practice team’s undertakings provide insight into our capabilities:

  • Our professionals were instrumental in the enactment of the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA), the FDA Modernization Act (FDAMA), the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act (Bioterrorism Act), the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA), the FDA Amendments Act, and the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act.  We also have been actively involved in rulemakings to establish regulations implementing these statutes, as well as in implementation and utilization of the regulations.
  • Our practice team, in a matter that spanned 5 years, assisted a client in securing millions in capital (i.e., dollars and shares) from a “milestone” provision in a merger agreement that opposing counsel had deemed unearned and unattainable.  The matter essentially entailed petitioning FDA for a nutrient content claim; motivating the agency to authorize the claim through discussions with Congressional staff, high level administrative personnel, and attorneys in the Office of Chief Counsel; and (once authorized) collaborating with litigation co-counsel to achieve resolution of the contractual dispute.
  • We partner with our client, The Food Institute, by authoring practical publications for sale, including:
  1. HACCP & U.S. Food Safety Guide (2nd edition);
  2. Food Industry Bioterrorism Act Guide;
  3. Dietary Supplements: A Regulatory Guide;
  4. Guide to Regulation of Food Ingredients and Food Packaging Materials;
  5. Food Labeling Guide (3rd edition);
  6. Importing Food Into The United States;
  7. Guide to Handling FDA Food Inspections (2nd edition); and
  8. Food Products Recall Manual (4th edition).
  • Our professionals have worked with numerous clients to determine the status of their food ingredients under the generally recognized as safe (i.e., “GRAS”) provision of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act), 21 U.S.C. § 321(s).  We have filed many successful GRAS Notifications for various food ingredients, including: potato and oat hull fibers; cultured dairy, fruit and vegetable materials; cultured corn, cane or beet sugars; and carbon monoxide.
  • Our practice team has represented top food and beverage companies in competitive disputes involving misleading labeling and advertising claims.  Using both traditional and untraditional strategies, our actions on behalf of clients led to cessation of the challenged claims and the restoration of a level competitive playing field.
  • Pursuant to amendment of the FD&C Act to include section 403(h)(3)(B) (21 U.S.C. § 343(h)(3)(B)), we represented a client by preparing and submitting to FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition a successful notification to authorize in-shell eggs, treated by a proprietary process according to specified minimum processing parameters, to be represented in labeling as “pasteurized.”
  • We have helped several clients obtain temporary marketing permits (TMPs) authorizing the interstate shipment of packs of food varying from the regulatory requirements of FDA’s definitions and standards of identity (e.g., canned fruit cocktail, canned tuna), many of which have not been updated in more than a quarter century.

Like OFW Law generally, our practice team is adept at providing clients with creative solutions to difficult problems.  We look forward to another 35 years of successes.

Bill Introduced to Ban the Use of Bis-Phenol A in Food Packaging

By Mark L. Itzkoff

On July 10, 2014, Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) introduced a bill (S. 2572) to ban the use of Bis-phenol A (BPA) in food packaging.  The bill was also introduced in the House of Representatives (H.R. 5033) by Reps. Lois Capps (D-CA) and Grace Meng (D-NY).

According to a press release issued by the bill’s co-sponsors:

The Ban Poisonous Additives Act … would remove BPA from food packaging, encourage the development of safer alternatives, and ensure a thorough safety review of all substances currently used in food and beverage containers. The bill also would require the Food and Drug Administration to examine the effects of BPA on workers who may have been disproportionately exposed to BPA during the manufacturing process.

In terms of food packaging applications, BPA is primarily used in the production of polycarbonate (21 C.F.R. § 177.1580(a)) and as a component of epoxy can coatings (21 C.F.R. § 175.300(b)(3)(vii)).  FDA repealed approval for the use of polycarbonate resin in the production of baby bottles and “sippy cups” in 2012, in response to a petition from the American Chemistry Council.

The full text of the bill is not yet publicly available.  We will update this post as soon as the text is published.

FDA Issues Guidance Documents on the Use of Nanotechnology in FDA-Regulated Materials 1

By Mark L. Itzkoff

On June 24, 2014, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released three final and one draft guidance document regarding the use of nanotechnology in the manufacture of FDA-regulated products.  Specifically, the agency issued the following:

Considering Whether an FDA-Regulated Product Involves the Application of Nanotechnology

While FDA has not established a regulatory definition for “nanotechnology,” the agency notes that the term is generally used to describe “materials that have at least one dimension in the size range of approximately 1 nanometer (nm) to 100 nm,” where the unique dimensions enable novel applications.  In the Guidance Document, FDA sets forth two points to consider when determining whether an FDA-regulated product involves the application of nanotechnology:

  1. Whether a material or end product is engineered to have at least one external dimension, or an internal or surface structure, in the nanoscale range (approximately 1 nm to 100 nm).
  1. Whether a material or end product is engineered to exhibit properties or phenomena, including physical or chemical properties or biological effects, which are attributable to its dimension(s), even if these dimensions fall outside the nanoscale range, up to one micrometer (1,000 nm).

FDA uses the term “engineered” to differentiate materials intentionally designed or manufactured to contain nanomaterials from those that naturally contain material in the nanoscale range.  The term “material or end product” is used to include the range of products regulated by FDA, including finished products (e.g.,a drug tablet) and materials used to produce the end product (e.g., a food additive).

The agency concludes that if a material or end product is “affirmative” for either point, additional attention may be needed to determine the safety of the material.

Assessing the Effects of Significant Manufacturing Process Changes, Including Emerging Technologies, on the Safety and Regulatory Status of Food Ingredients and Food Contact Substances, Including Food Ingredients that are Color Additives

FDA approaches nanomaterials from current food substances (i.e., for the purposes of the Guidance Document, FDA uses the term “food substance” to include food additives, color additives, GRAS ingredients and food contact substances) in the same manner as it approaches food substances produced using a process that entails significant changes in the manufacturing process. The guidance document suggests that materials produced with any new process be evaluated to determine if a new regulatory submission is warranted.  In the food ingredient guidance document, FDA lists the factors that should be considered when reviewing the regulatory status of the new material:

  • A change in one or more starting materials;
  • A change in the concentration of starting materials;
  • A change in catalyst;
  • A change in the source microorganism (including a change in strain) used for a food substance derived from fermentation of a microorganism; and
  • A change in food manufacturing or ingredient technology, such as the use of emerging technologies that affect the particle size distribution of a food substance.

Any of these changes may require a new “regulatory filing” if it results in a significant change in the safety or intended use of the food substance.  For example, the use of nanotechnology to produce a food additive may increase the amount of the additive that is absorbed through the digestive system, which may require a new safety evaluation.

Of particular interest is the agency’s discussion of the impact of nanotechnology on food substances deemed to be generally recognized as safe (GRAS) when produced using conventional production methods.  FDA notes that in some situations, “manufacturing changes are so novel as to preclude general recognition of safety.”  Furthermore, FDA notes that when nanotechnology or other emerging technologies are used, the technology may be “so new as to preclude a consensus among experts that the use of a food substance manufactured using that technology is safe, thus precluding a determination that the use of the food substance is GRAS” (emphasis added).

Safety of Nanomaterials in Cosmetic Products

This Guidance Document notes that, except for color additives, substances used in cosmetic products are not subject to FDA premarket approval.  It is the responsibility of the cosmetic manufacturer to ensure that the product is not misbranded or adulterated.  FDA states that the general principles for evaluating the safety of nanomaterials are the same as the principles for evaluating conventional materials.  However, nanomaterials “may exhibit new or altered physicochemical properties that may affect biological interactions, which may raise questions about the safety of the product containing nanomaterials.”  These new or altered properties must be addressed as part of the overall safety evaluation.”  The guidance document includes specific recommendations on the components of a safety evaluation for nanomaterials, including characterization of the material and toxicology considerations.

Use of Nanomaterials in Food for Animals

In addition to the three final guidance documents discussed above, FDA issued draft guidance on the use of nanomaterials in food for animals.  The agency notes that at the current time there are questions related to the “the technical evidence of safety as well as the general recognition of that safety” that would preclude a GRAS determination.  FDA states that these questions are sufficient to “warrant formal premarket review and approval by FDA.”  For this reason, FDA suggests that nanotechnology-based animal feed ingredients be submitted for review as a food additive petition (FAP).  The draft guidance includes recommendations on the contents of a FAP for these materials.

Supreme Court Holds FD&C Act Does Not Bar Competitor Food Label Challenges under the Lanham Act

By Michael J. O’Flaherty and Stewart D. Fried

In a recent opinion delivered by Justice Kennedy (with Justice Breyer recused), the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously held that competitors may bring Lanham Act claims challenging food labels, even if such labels technically comply with regulations promulgated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act).  This essentially means that the FD&C Act and its regulations are not a ceiling on the regulation of food labeling because Congress intended the Lanham Act and the FD&C Act to complement each other with respect to labeling.  While this ruling substantially affects how food labeling compliance should be analyzed prospectively from a Lanham Act/potential competitor lawsuit perspective, it does not necessarily impact directly how such compliance must be analyzed from a State consumer protection/class action lawsuit perspective, especially inasmuch as FD&C Act § 403A makes federal standards for certain food label information nationally uniform (i.e., preemptive of challenges alleging another standard applicable).

In POM Wonderful LLC v. Coca-Cola Co., No. 12-761 (argued April 21, 2014; decided June 12, 2014) [573 U. S. ___ (2014)],  POM Wonderful (POM), which markets a pomegranate-blueberry juice blend, filed a Lanham Act lawsuit against the Coca-Cola Company (Coca-Cola), alleging that the name, label, marketing, and advertising of one of Coca-Cola’s juice blends mislead consumers into believing the product consists predominantly of pomegranate and blueberry juice, when it actually consists predominantly of less expensive apple and grape juices.  POM sells a juice product labeled “Pomegranate Blueberry 100% Juice,” which consists entirely of pomegranate and blueberry juices.  Coca-Cola (under its Minute Maid brand) sells “Pomegranate Blueberry Flavored Blend of 5 Juices,” which contains about 99% apple and grape juices, with pomegranate, blueberry, and raspberry juices accounting for only the remaining amount.  The label on the Minute Maid product features a picture of all five fruits and the words “Pomegranate Blueberry” in a larger font than the words “Flavored Blend of 5 Juices.”  Importantly, the Minute Maid label technically complied with the labeling rules provided in the FD&C Act and in FDA’s related regulations for naming a flavored juice blend, 21 C.F.R. § 102.33.

The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the decision of the federal district court judge from the Central District of California ,which essentially had held that, in the realm of food labeling, a Lanham Act claim like POM’s is precluded by the FD&C Act.  679 F. 3d 1170 (9th Cir. 2012).  The Supreme Court reversed the Ninth Circuit decision and remanded the case for further proceedings.

The Lanham Act permits one competitor to sue another for unfair competition arising from false or misleading product descriptions.  The FD&C Act prohibits the misbranding of food marketed in interstate commerce.  To implement the FD&C Act’s provisions, FDA has promulgated regulations regarding food labeling, including one concerning the common or usual name for juice blends.  Unlike the Lanham Act, which relies (in large part) for its enforcement on private lawsuits brought by injured competitors, the FD&C Act and its implementing regulations give the federal government nearly exclusive enforcement authority and do not permit private enforcement lawsuits.  The FD&C Act also preempts certain state misbranding laws.

Lanham Act Claims Are Not Preempted by the FD&C Act

The Supreme Court held that, under this statutory structure, competitors may bring Lanham Act claims, like POM’s, challenging food labels regulated under the FD&C Act.  The Supreme Court based its holding on two premises.  First, it found that the case did not concern preemption, but rather concerned an alleged preclusion of a cause of action under one federal statute (i.e., the Lanham Act) by the provisions of another federal statute (i.e., the FD&C Act).  Second, it found that the case entailed statutory interpretation, with analysis of the statutory text, aided by established interpretive rules, controlling.  It rejected Coca-Cola’s proposition that the best way to reconcile or harmonize the statutes was to bar POM’s Lanham Act claim.

The Supreme Court also noted that these statutes have co-existed for over 70 years and that neither expressly forbids nor otherwise limits Lanham Act claims that challenge labels that are regulated under the FD&C Act.  The Court determined the absence of such a textual provision was “powerful evidence that Congress did not intend FDA oversight to be the exclusive means” of ensuring proper food labeling.  Rejecting Coca-Cola’s argument, it concluded that Congress, by taking care to preempt only some state laws, indicated it did not intend the FD&C Act to preclude requirements arising from other sources.

The Supreme Court characterized the Lanham Act and FD&C Act as complementary in scope and purpose.  It noted that both statutes address food labeling, but the Lanham Act protects commercial interests against unfair competition, while the FD&C Act protects public health and safety.  It also pointed out that the statutes complement each other with respect to remedies — the FD&C Act’s enforcement is largely committed to the FDA, while the Lanham Act empowers private parties to sue competitors to protect their interests on a case-by-case basis – and that allowing Lanham Act suits takes advantage of synergies among multiple methods of regulation.

The Supreme Court also reasoned that if it concluded the FD&C Act precluded Lanham Act claims challenging food labels, doing so could lead to a result that Congress did not intend because the FDA does not necessarily pursue enforcement measures regarding all objectionable labels.  This being the case, preclusion of Lanham Act claims could leave commercial interests — and indirectly the public at large — with less effective protection in the food labeling realm.

The Supreme Court sharply rejected Coca-Cola’s argument that Lanham Act claim preclusion is proper because Congress intended national uniformity in food labeling, and is reasonably  instructive of how federal courts are likely to treat Lanham Act claims against food companies in the future.  First, it is now clear that Congress did not intend to foreclose private enforcement of other federal statutes when it delegated enforcement authority to the federal government pursuant to the FD&C Act.  Second, the Court removed any doubt that the FD&C Act’s express preemption provision applies only to state, not federal, law.  Lastly, the FD&C Act and its implementing regulations may address food labeling with more specificity than the Lanham Act, but this specificity matters only if the two statutes could not be implemented in full at the same time.  The Court determined that neither the statutory structures nor the empirical evidence of which it was aware indicated there would be any difficulty in fully enforcing each statute concurrently according to its terms.

Finally, the Supreme Court rejected the Solicitor General’s middle-ground position that would have precluded Lanham Act claims only to the extent that the FD&C Act or FDA’s regulations specifically require or permit particular language on a food label.  Stated differently, had the Supreme Court agreed with this argument, POM’s challenge to the name of the Minute Maid product, which complied with FDA regulations, would have been precluded but its other challenges would not have been barred.  Instead, all eight Justices found that government’s position to be fatally flawed because it assumed that the FD&C Act and its regulations established a ceiling on the regulation of food labeling, when Congress intended the Lanham Act and the FD&C Act to complement each other.

Food (and dietary supplement purveyors should keep the POM Wonderful decision in mind prospectively when assessing the enforcement risks attending labeling representations.  While the door to Lanham Act claims in food labeling disputes has been blasted open by the Supreme Court’s decision, it remains far from clear whether a plethora of state court consumer protection actions will ensue, especially given the clear statement in the opinion confirming the clear applicability of the FD&C Act’s preemption provisions to state court labeling lawsuits.  However, the creativity of the plaintiffs’ bar cannot be underestimated and, as a result, the utility of the decision in class action lawsuits challenging food labeling claims should surface reasonably soon.

The Next Dietary Guidelines Debate

By Marshall L. Matz and Nathaniel B. Fretz, as published by Agri-Pulse

There is a new question surrounding the Dietary Guidelines for Americans now being drafted for release in 2015. The question is whether the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee should continue to focus their review and recommendations on scientific advances in nutrition and diet or should they venture into issues surrounding “sustainability” and all that this term has come to include.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have jointly published the Dietary Guidelines for Americans every 5 years since 1980. In 1990, the Congress mandated the publication in Section 301 of the National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Act of 1990 (7 U.S.C. 5341), requiring that the report “shall contain nutritional and dietary information and guidelines for the general public….”

Beginning with the 1985 edition, HHS and USDA have appointed a Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) consisting of nationally recognized experts in the field of nutrition and health. The Committee reviews the latest scientific and medical literature and prepares a report for the Secretaries that provide recommendations for the next edition of the Dietary Guidelines based on the preponderance of the scientific evidence available.

This time, as HHS and USDA prepare for the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, the DGAC has created a new subcommittee on “Food Sustainability and Safety.” The HHS Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion has the administrative leadership for the 2015 edition and is supported by USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. Leadership on the Dietary Guidelines alternates between HHS and USDA each five years. The Departments then jointly review the Advisory Committee’s recommendations and develop and publish the revised Dietary Guidelines for Americans policy document.

Where this new dimension goes…considering “Food Sustainability and Safety” as a part of the Dietary Guidelines…remains to be seen. It is a significant departure from dietary advice based on the science of nutrition and health. Up to this point, the Dietary Guidelines has been confined to micro-nutrient and macro-nutrient recommendations. As there is no legal definition to the term “sustainable” it could go in a number of directions.

Congress has taken notice. The House Appropriations Committee addressed this development with the following report language that accompanied the FY 2015 Agriculture Appropriations Bill:

“Dietary Guidelines.—The Committee is concerned that the advisory committee for the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans is considering issues outside of the nutritional focus of the panel. Specifically, the advisory committee is showing an interest in incorporating sustainability, climate change, and other environmental factors and production practices into their criteria for establishing the next dietary recommendations, which is clearly outside of the scope of the panel. The Committee directs the Secretary to ensure that the advisory committee focuses only on nutrient and dietary recommendations based upon sound nutrition science and not pursue an environmental agenda. Should environmental or production factors be included in the panel’s recommendations to USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services, the Committee expects the Secretary to reject their inclusion in the final 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.”

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans was based on the 1977 publication, Dietary Goals for the United States, released by the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition. In releasing the Dietary Goals, Chairman George McGovern emphasized they were dietary recommendations intended to reduce diet as a risk factor in the etiology of disease and promote nutritional health. McGovern said at the time: “We must acknowledge and recognize that the public in confused about what to eat to maximize health. If we as Government want to reduce health costs and maximize the quality of life for all Americans, we have an obligation to provide practical guides to the individual consumer as well as set national dietary goals for the country as a whole.”

The Dietary Goals were the first comprehensive statement by any branch of the Federal Government on dietary recommendations. They were not intended then, and the Dietary Guidelines are not intended now, to address agriculture production procedures or environmental issues. The issues associated with animal welfare, organic criteria, biotechnology, advertising to children or taxes are clearly beyond the scope of the Dietary Guidelines and should be discussed in a different forum.

In 2010, when the current edition of the Dietary Guidelines was released, Secretary Vilsack and Secretary Sebelius said:“We are pleased to present the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. Based on the most recent scientific evidence review, this document provides information and advice for choosing a healthy eating pattern—namely, one that focuses on nutrient-dense foods and beverages, and that contributes to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.”

The 2015 Subcommittee on Sustainability is chaired by Miriam Nelson, Ph.D., Professor, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Boston, MA.

The Subcommittee has two consultants. Dr. Timothy S. Griffin, Ph.D., is the Director, Agriculture Food and Environment Program; Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy; Tufts University; Boston, MA.

Dr. Griffin is a faculty co-director for the Tufts Institute for the Environment and is an associate professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. His research expertise and interests include the intersection of agriculture and the environment, and the development and implementation of sustainable production systems.

The other consultant to the Subcommittee on Sustainability is Michael W. Hamm, Ph.D. Dr. Hamm is the Mott Professor of Sustainable Agriculture; Departments of Community Sustainability, Food Science and Human Nutrition, and Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences; Michigan State University (MSU); East Lansing, Michigan.
At MSU he is director of the Center for Regional Food Systems which bolsters MSU’s teaching, research, and outreach around regional, community-based food systems within Michigan and around the world. His current research efforts center on the intersection of environmental sustainability, human health, and economic development in regional food systems.

Doctors Hamm and Griffin have impressive resumes and are clearly experts on the intersection between agriculture and the environment and environmental sustainability, but they are not experts on human nutrition. Dietary advice is complicated enough. The DGAC, HHS and USDA should heed the advice of Congress and stick to “dietary recommendations based upon sound nutrition science and not pursue an environmental agenda.” There are other opportunities to discuss how much room pigs and chickens should have or whether genetic modification is safe and should be labeled.
_________________________________________

Marshall Matz and Nathan Fretz are former Senate and House Agriculture Committee Counsel now at OFW Law. Matz was also General Counsel to the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition.

Political Science or Sound Science – Is the White House Dictating Nutrition Labeling Reform? 3

By Richard L. Frank and Bruce Silverglade

The White House’s role with USDA’s regulations for school foods and the WIC feeding program has been widely reported.  Lesser known is the White House involvement in FDA food labeling policy.

To commemorate the anniversary of the Let’s Move! campaign, the first lady hosted a week-long series of events in March, one of which included announcing new proposed FDA regulations requiring the “Nutrition Facts” label on food packages to list “Added Sugars.”

The Nutrition Facts label, required since 1994, has had an uneven impact on Americans’ dietary habits.  It needs to be reformed.  For example, FDA is proposing to require the “Calories” per serving line to appear in larger, more conspicuous type for consumers to easily see.

But the White House seems to be pushing FDA to require more, including the disclosure of “Added Sugars,” which may not be necessary or even beneficial.  The FDA itself concedes:

  • “U.S. consensus reports have determined that inadequate evidence exists to support the direct contribution of added sugars to obesity or heart disease … [1]
  • The 2010 Dietary Guidelines states that “added sugars do not contribute to weight gain more than [any other] calorie source;” [2]
  • It “is not aware of any existing consumer research that has examined this topic,” [3]   i.e.  no research has ever been conducted on how consumers would interpret an “Added Sugars” disclosure on the Nutrition Facts Panel …or how it might confuse consumers.
  • “There are currently no analytical methods that are able to distinguish between naturally occurring sugars and those sugars added to a food”[4] (thus necessitating a  proposed massive recordkeeping requirement that companies keep track of the amount of sugars they use in food products).

This unprecedented mandate by FDA strays beyond the agency’s traditional legal authority and subjects food companies to additional costs that are ultimately passed on to consumers.

About a year ago, FDA requested permission from the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to conduct a study to find out if an “Added Sugars” disclosure would be helpful or confusing to consumers.  However, to coincide with the anniversary of the Let’s Move! campaign, FDA, on March 3, published its proposed rule including “Added Sugars” labeling despite the absence of any consumer survey research. OMB approval of FDA’s research study was granted in an untimely fashion three weeks after the proposed regulation was published (and then only after trade press reports had drawn attention to the matter).

The consumer research study is just now underway and the results are not known … much less published for public comment.

Politically, Let’s Move! and the White House accomplished their mission.  The FDA announcement on “Added Sugars” labeling filled the national news for days even though the agency had not conducted its research project to determine if the disclosure would be helpful to consumers.

What will be the impact on the consumer?  No one really knows. Under the proposed regulation, the “Added Sugars” disclosure would be listed in a triple-indent format under the existing line for “Sugars,” which itself is indented under the line for “Total Carbohydrates.”

Even lawyers wince at triple indents in legal documents; how will a busy consumer comprehend the information when glancing at a food label in the grocery store?  Will this be another misguided attempt by the administration and only confuse consumers more?  Will it provide any long-term benefits to Americans’ health?

Why not keep it simple and just require calories to be disclosed in a more conspicuous manner? While not a perfect solution, since all calories are not the same, it would still represent an improvement in the label.

For added sugars content, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines directs consumers to check ingredient lists where sugars, along with other ingredients, are already disclosed in order of predominance.  Moreover, the amount of “Sugars” per serving is already required to be listed on the “Nutrition Facts” label under the disclosure for “Total Carbohydrates.”

Common sense says less is better…but in this case, it seems the White House and FDA are pursuing a political agenda against sugar.

Given the Let’s Move! agenda, it’s not surprising that FDA “put the cart before the horse” and proposed “Added Sugars” disclosures without completing long planned research that the White House (OMB) itself delayed.

But, basing regulatory proposals on political science, not sound science, is a recipe for policy failure.  The President himself signed an Executive Order 13563 on January 18, 2011 on Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review which stated, “It must be based on the best available science.”  Seems the White House and/or FDA are speaking out of both sides of their mouth.

The White House should direct FDA to live up to the Administration’s purported commitment to evidence-based science and regulatory policy, and withdraw the proposed “Added Sugars” labeling regulation.

Endnotes:

[1] 79 Federal Register 11904 (March 3, 2014).

[2] 79 Federal Register 11904 (March 3, 2014).

[3] 78 Federal Register 32394 (May 30, 2013).

[4] 79 Federal Register 11905 (March 3, 2014).

Ms. Gloom Wants to Know: Does Your Product Hold Program Really “Hold” When Needed?

By Jolyda O. Swaim

Anyone who has been involved in the quality assurance and food safety side of the food business for any length of time knows that one of the top items on the list of those that will keep you awake at night is whether or not your product “hold” or retention program will be effective in preventing the shipment of product when needed.  Product can be held for a number of reasons and many of the reasons can be the trigger for a recall if for some reason the product is shipped.  I had it happen to me at several different companies for several different reasons.  Unless the product is physically “locked up” and you have the only key, you need to ensure you have as many hurdles as possible in place to: (1) account for all product on hold, and (2) make it as difficult as possible to “accidently” ship the product.

It is also important that the correct product is on hold – but that topic will be discussed in a separate blog.

Reasons Why Product May Be Held

Companies have hold or retention programs to retain products for a number of reasons.  Product may be retained – usually by the QA department – for quality reasons that don’t affect the safety of the product, but don’t meet the customers’ or your specifications.  If this product is “accidently” shipped, you may have unhappy customers or consumers but there is no food safety risk and the product does not violate any regulatory requirement.  However, your customer’s brand or your brand could suffer if this happens too many times.

Products held for regulatory violations or food safety reasons are the ones which will get you in trouble if your hold program is treated as an afterthought – especially when the warehouse or distribution center is looking at filling orders.  Product might be held because its labeling is wrong; for example, it doesn’t declare an allergen.  Other reasons include that you or a government agency tested the product or a food contact surface for a pathogen such as Listeria monocytogenes or Salmonella. In fact, when FSIS takes a sample, it is a regulatory requirement that you hold the product until the results are obtained.

If you are a FSIS-inspected establishment, you might also have product on hold because the FSIS inspector has placed a retain tag on the product.  In these situations – whether or not the product is held for a food safety reason – violation of the FSIS retain tag brings on another whole set of problems for you of which a recall maybe the smallest!

What Makes a Robust Hold Program? 

Accurate Inventory

A robust hold program needs a number of hurdles to allow you to sleep at night when there is product you absolutely do not want to leave your control.  Regardless of whether the hold is for quality or food safety reasons, all should begin with an accurate inventory of the amount of product being placed “on hold.”  If this is a hold to control product that a FSIS inspector has also tagged, make sure the product is inventoried with the inspector and you both agree on the amount.

It is important to have a written document or computer-generated form where the product details are recorded.  This should include the product name, product code, date of hold, reason for the hold, the person placing the product on hold, and quantity.  When product is released, the disposition and the number of cases released should be recorded.  If cases are pulled from the hold for testing or any other reason, these also need to be noted.

Contain the Product

Many times the effectiveness of the hold can be determined by the amount of product you need to hold.  For example, if you have several cases of product or maybe even several pallets, you may have a retain cage where these can be placed under lock and key – with you holding the key.  But there are few areas that are large enough to hold a day’s production or more under a physical lock and key.  One way to hold the a large amount of product is to load it on a refrigerated trailer, lock the door, chain the trailer to an unmovable object, and keep all keys! I know at least one General Manager who did this to ensure she could sleep at night and know that no product would “accidently” disappear.   However, there have been a few isolated cases where entire trucks have been stolen so this should also be a consideration!

If the product is being held for food safety reasons and the product cannot be held under lock and key, have it inventoried daily to ensure it is all there.  Document this check.  Many companies with computerized inventory systems have the ability to “lock-out” any hold product from being visible by the warehouse personnel that are filling orders.  This is one good hurdle, but it is important that the product actually be “locked out” in the system or it might still get shipped.  Keep in mind that the product is still physically visible, so make sure you also have visible hold tags on it.

Companies should also ensure that the physical product has hold cards visible to fork truck drivers.  Use large, bright tags, and also bright hold tape such as that used for crime scenes, to tape off the racks.  And if the hold tag is not on the side of the pallet that the driver can see, it does no good; place visible tags on each side of the pallet to prevent the excuse that “didn’t see the tag.”  And again, inventory the product daily to be sure none of it has walked away.

If you are holding product at a public warehouse, you must work with the warehouse to ensure it has a robust hold program.  Make sure that your personnel controlling the product at that location understand the need to ensure the program works.  It is always preferable to keep the hold product at your location where you have control.

Follow the Program

Companies should also make sure that any product on hold is properly released with the hold tags removed and disposition documented.  If no one in the QA department takes the time to remove the tags and you allow just anyone to do so, you have just diluted the effectiveness of your program.  If no one documents disposition and release of product, you have also diluted the effectiveness of your program.

You should also mandate that the product hold inventory is reconciled regularly.  Hold people accountable for violations of the program.  Of course, this can only be done after you provide appropriate training on the program to everyone.  Hold tags, both QA and FSIS, must be respected if you have any chance of ensuring that when product must absolutely remain under your control; that it will.  Remember that Murphy’s Law is always working against you and if product is easy to ship when on hold, it will happen!

About “Ms. Gloom”

In the attorney ranks at OFW Law, there is only one who would raise a hand if all were asked if they had any “hands-on” experience in the operation of a Townsend “Frank-O-Matic” hotdog maker, producing bean sprouts for use in egg rolls or in managing a food facility sanitation crew.  In fact, there are probably no attorneys out there who could raise their hands except Jolyda Swaim.

Prior to law school and OFW Law, Ms. Swaim spent years in the food industry, beginning as a microbiologist and Quality Assurance technician.  In these years, she had direct charge of quality assurance, production, sanitation and consumer affair departments at various companies producing products from pickles, sauerkraut and barbeque sauce, to various meat and poultry products, to frozen entrees, egg rolls and pizza to spices and spice blends.  Her last position at Sara Lee as Director of Food Safety had her auditing its facilities in the United States and Mexico to ensure facilities producing ready-to-eat products were following best practices in sanitation and product handling.

Reopening of Comment Period on Reportable Food Registry ANPR

By Michael J. O’Flaherty

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has reopened the comment period for an additional sixty (60) days on its advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR), entitled “Implementation of the Food and Drug Administration Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Amendments to the Reportable Food Registry (RFR) Provisions of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.”  79 Fed. Reg. 34,668 (June 18, 2014); see also 79 Fed. Reg. 16,698 (Mar. 26, 2014) (the ANPR).  FDA is reopening the comment period based on a request for an extension to allow interested persons additional time to submit comments.

The RFR is an electronic portal for industry to use to submit reports to FDA regarding reportable foods.  A “reportable food” is an article of food (other than a dietary supplement or infant formula) for which there is a reasonable probability that use of, or exposure to, such article of food will cause serious adverse health consequences or death to humans or animals.  A “responsible party” is a person who submitted the registration for the food facility where the article of food was manufactured, processed, packed, or held.

Section 211 of FSMA amended section 417 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA), 21 U.S.C. § 350f, to require notification of consumers who may have purchased a reportable food.  The ANPR made clear that FDA intends to implement the consumer notification requirement for reportable foods through rulemaking.

The ANPR essentially requested comments, data, and information regarding how to implement FSMA § 211.  FDA invited comments on a number of issues, including the following:

  • What information should be required in consumer notifications so that consumers can determine whether a food in their possession is a reportable food;
  • The format in which the information should be presented;
  • What types of retail establishments FDA should consider to be “grocery stores” subject to the consumer notification requirements;
  • How grocery stores should be made aware that the information has been published on FDA’s website;
  • What manners and locations are used by grocery stores to provide food recall information to consumers;
  • What constitutes prominent display or sharing of the information by a grocery store with its customers;
  • The impact on grocery stores from posting the information;
  • Whether consumers should be notified that this type of information will not be generated for dietary supplements, infant formula, and fruits and vegetables that are raw agricultural commodities; and
  • Whether FDA should require industry to submit consumer-oriented information to FDA, even if the food will not be available for sale to consumers at the retail level.

The comment period on the ANPR will now close on August 18, 2014.