FDA Holds Nutrition Innovation Strategy Public Meeting

August 1, 2018By Riëtte van Laack

On June 26, FDA announced a public meeting to discuss the implementation of the Nutrition Innovation Strategy (NIS), a broad initiative intended to promote public health through efforts to empower consumers to make better and more informed decisions about their diets and health, foster the development of healthier food options, and expand the opportunities to use nutrition to reduce morbidity and mortality due to chronic disease. The public meeting took place on July 26.  Agenda items included updating standards of identity (SOIs), ingredient statements (naming of ingredients) and consumer education.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb’s opening remarks focused on standards of identity and were consistent with his written statement released immediately after the remarks. Dr. Gottlieb repeated and elaborated on his concerns regarding plant-based products using dairy related terms.

During the remaining presentations, discussions, and comments, SOIs were by far the most frequently mentioned topic. Besides the issue of using defined terms from SOI regulations in naming of products that do not meet the SOI, discussions addressed a need for a revision of SOIs to allow innovation of healthier options (e.g., some standards do not allow salt replacement by salt substitutes); questions as to the purpose of SOIs (is it related to nutrition or to assure authenticity of the food, or both); and consumer understanding, including how on-line purchasing will affect the need for, and understanding of, SOIs.  A recurrent suggestion was for FDA to consider amendments that applied to all SOIs (horizontal regulations) instead of reviewing and revising the more than 300 SOI regulations one by one.

Comments related to ingredient statements were limited and included vitamin naming (last year, DSM petitioned FDA to permit declaration of vitamins by letter and number rather than by chemical name), and use of all caps (which presumably makes the ingredient statement difficult to read).

The breakout sessions titled Claims and Statements Used on Food Labels / Icon for “Healthy” highlighted the need for a reconsideration of the “healthy” claim, as well as the wide diversity of opinion on what constitutes “healthy” and how the term should be defined. Concerns about the icon related to competition with other icons and potential overconsumption of foods carrying the icon.  Several individuals expressed a need to do consumer research as well as consumer education.

Discussions regarding claims generally suggested that FDA needs to consider moving away from a focus on nutrients to a focus on food groups and positive claims because consumers foods rather than nutrients as such.

Opinions on consumer education also greatly varied as to how FDA can promote healthy eating in general. Again, there appeared to be support for a focus on food groups rather than on nutrients. The role of influencers via social media was also brought up.

The 40 plus public comments included comments encouraging FDA to enforce the SOIs for milk and other dairy products, comments opposing the strict interpretation of dairy and other terms, and comments about medical foods.

During the wrap-up, FDA mentioned that it will try to summarize the breakout sessions’ discussions and will place the summary in the docket. Meanwhile, the Agency encouraged submission of comments and suggestions to the docket. The deadline for submissions is Aug. 27, 2018.