The American Bakers Association hosted a teleconference
with experts from the law firm Covington & Burling
LLC on what bakers can expect from the Obama administration,
Congress and the FDA in 2009 and beyond.
Bakers can prepare to meet the challenges and opportunities in 2009 by monitoring developments at federal and state levels, and in the legislative and regulatory arenas. Of the 11,000 employees in FDA, Obama appoints only the commissioner and the general counsel. The FDA in recent years has become tougher and more stringent in the areas of food, drugs and cosmetics. It is putting out more complex warning letters as it tries to regain credibility following difficulties, such as the melamine incident from China. “We can expect to see a much tougher FDA certainly over the next few years,” said Peter Barton Hutt, senior counsel, Covington & Burling, Washington, D.C.
Food safety is included in a list of 13 urgent issues President Obama will need to address, however, the economy is going to take precedence in the first six to 12 months of the new administration. Following are a few topics of interest in the new year and actions the baking industry can take to meet the challenges and opportunities head on. The responses were provided by Miriam Guggenheim, food regulatory attorney.
Issue: Increased FDA oversight of nutrition as part of a broader health reform
Action: While the baking industry will want to monitor issues that could negatively affect its sweets and snack goods product lines, the focus on prevention and the role of diet and health could present opportunities to tout the nutrition of other grain foods, including whole grain and enriched grain products.
Issue: The funding of food safety initiatives
Action: Most of the major food safety bills introduced in the previous Congress contain some form of industry funded user fees. Obama favors using appropriations instead of user fees for food safety initiatives. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), who is going to continue to serve as chair of the agriculture appropriations subcommittee, also supports increasing FDA appropriations instead of user fees. The baking industry will want to stress to Congress that the types of user fees proposed in these bills are simply taxes on industry rather than fees for service, and are going to result in higher food prices that are not in the interest of consumers in the current economy.
Issue: FDA's food protection plan and the safety of imports
Action: Food safety must be built in throughout the manufacturing and ingredient sourcing process. For bakers, it is essential to know suppliers and ensure the safety of ingredients, particularly those coming in from abroad. With the knowledge and experience bakers gain in doing that, they will be better positioned to help shape food safety regulation and food safety initiatives. The industry will want to seek opportunities early in 2009 to educate Congress on issues of importance to the food industry before safety bills are finalized and introduced before any new food safety crises arise. Food safety regulation should be the product of reasoned analysis and not a rash response to a sudden crisis.
Issue: Shaping FDA policy
Action: The new FDA members should come in without preconceived notions of food policy, so bakers should be on the lookout to present thoughts and ideas and help shape regulatory initiatives in the food arena. FDA's food officials said they intend to devote a fair amount of resources to nutrition. The baking industry should revisit some of the nutrition related issues the agency hasn't been open to in the past. The industry may want to press FDA again to permit “good” source or “excellent” source type claims for whole grains in its grain products or to ask the agency again to permit folic acid fortification of whole grain foods to help prevent neural tube defects. Designate Health and Human Services Secretary Daschle also has urged a shift in the paradigm from a focus on sickness to a focus on wellness in his healthcare reform approach. It's important to emphasize the role grain products can play in wellness, particularly fiber rich grain products and their role in disease prevention and health promotion. At the same time, expect concern on increasing obesity rates, particularly among children. So, the baking industry is going to have to think carefully about its product lines and its marketing practices, especially those directed toward children.