LEGISLATIVE LINE

Barry Scher is a government and retail consultant with Policy Solutions LLC. He is a 42-year veteran of Giant/Landover, where he held several key positions, including Vice President of Corporate Public Affairs. He can be reached at bscher@policy-solutions.net.

If I tell you that 2020 is going to be a tumultuous political year you may say “tell me something else I didn’t know” and you would be right. First off it is guaranteed that this first month or two of 2020 will be full of impeachment news and the next 10 months will be chock full of election news. Other issues coming forth early in the year include a focus on the U.S. economy and global economic rules and policies pertaining to U.S.-Mexico-Canada, or USMCA trade agreement and also a trade agreement with China. And as the new Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gets settled in his new office, expect to see heightened regulatory activity.

Within the regulatory world, so much change occurred in 2019 that you may be hard-pressed to stay on top of things in 2020. But our friends at the FDA have a belated holiday gift for you and your food safety staff. The FDA has packaged a new website whereby you can search in a single website location all the FDA guidance documents and other regulatory guidance issues that one could possibly imagine, and it is so easy to use too. You can also use the site to search by simply typing in key words. Just go to: www.fda.gov/regulatory-information/search-fda-guidance-documents and whatever you need to know may be found right there at your fingertips.

FDA Releases Supplement To Food Code

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The FDA has recently made available an important document called “The Supplement to the 2017 Food Code.” The updated document addresses recommendations made by regulatory officials, industry, academia, and consumers at the 2018 biennial meeting of the Conference for Food Protection. It is a joint project of those who watch over our food industry – the FDA, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA). Simply put, the Food Code and its new Supplement provide government and industry with practical, science-based controls for reducing the risk of foodborne illness in retail and foodservice establishments and is a model for retail food regulations in all 50 states, DC, and other territories. This is something that you need to make sure your food safety staff is aware of. The 2017 FDA Food Code and its new supplement is available on the FDA website.

“Fake” Meat Stories In The Media

This new year will bring with it continued debate and possibly more regulations governing “fake” meat. This is how the cattlemen often refer to these increasing popular plant-based alternatives. The New York Times ran a story last month about a new negative campaign by the meat industry attacking the supposed health benefits of plant-based meat alternatives. The campaign is being orchestrated by the Center for Consumer Freedom, a quasi-public relations firm that is often used by specific industries as an attack dog. The campaign also is raising health concerns about burgers made from plant-based meat alternatives, calling them “ultra-processed imitations” and asking in their ad campaign: “What’s hiding in your plant-based meat”? If you believe that plant-based burgers are a real threat to meat burgers you are correct. But there is more to come – read on below!

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The Law Of The Land

In a related story about plant-based meat alternatives, Food Safety News has reported that a bipartisan pair of influential Western senators want to “cement into law how government agencies regulate food produced using animal cell-culture technology.” Senators Mike Enzi (R-WY) and Jon Tester (D-MT) have introduced legislation to ensure that an agreement reached earlier this year between the FDA and USDA will have the force of law. The senators say that the FDA-USDA agreement was designed to leverage the expertise of both agencies to protect the country’s food supply and help ensure safe and accurate-labeled products. “Americans shouldn’t have to guess what they are buying at the grocery store checkout line,” said Tester. “We need to make sure these products are clearly labeled for consumers so folks can make informed choices about what they’re feeding their families.”

For food products derived from livestock or poultry cells, the agreement – which this legislation would codify – charges FDA with overseeing the process of multiplying collected cells to make edible tissue and USDA with overseeing the processing, packaging, and labeling. For products not derived from livestock or poultry cells, FDA would oversee all phases of development and production.

CBD In Food Or Dietary Supplements is Illegal

Since my prior month’s update about CBD, I have received several emails questioning product sales of CBD so for the record, let me issue a brief clarification. You may recall my mention of CBD products getting a particularly large boost from the farm funding bill Congress enacted at the end of 2018, which officially classified hemp as an agricultural commodity and removed it from the federal controlled substances list. This apparently has caused a lot of confusion in the marketplace. Last month the FDA moved to make it crystal clear that selling food with CBD added or in dietary supplements is a violation of the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) and illegal. In its strongest enforcement action to date, the Agency issued warning letters to 15 major manufacturing companies selling products containing CBD in violation of the FD & C Act. It also released a revised consumer update detailing its safety concerns about CBD products and stating that it cannot conclude that it is generally recognized as safe (GRAS). CBD is still a controversial topic of discussion and its legality is murky. If in doubt, get your legal department involved.

FSIS In 2020

As we move into 2020, it would be good for you to know where the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) at USDA is going. Over the past year, FDIS has moved forward in its goal of modernizing the agency from top to bottom while fulfilling its mission to prevent foodborne illness and protect public health.

In this new year, FSIS plans to finalize rules proposed in 2019, including the Egg Products Inspection Regulations rule. FSIS will also continue to focus on food safety modernization including exploring improvements to beef slaughter inspection; expanding the chemical residue surveillance program; revising performance standards for Campylobacter in comminuted chicken and turkey products and proposing performance standards for Salmonella in raw pork cuts and raw comminuted pork products. Your food safety staff will need to keep abreast of FSIS developments in 2020.

SNAP Update

The final rule released by USDA last month to make work requirements stricter for millions of Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients largely follows what the administration initially proposed earlier this year, according to Politico. I’ve kept you up to date in my prior reports as the rule tightens the criteria that states must meet to get a waiver from existing work requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents. But the department also made another significant, little noticed change. It eliminated one of the key ways states get waivers from work requirements when unemployment is rapidly rising – a change that has antihunger advocates even more concerned.

The changes in the final rule will begin to take effect April 1 barring court action and would make SNAP less responsive to an economic downturn, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal group that analyzes and defends safety-net programs. About 688,000 adults would be ineligible for the program under the changes, USDA estimated. The plan would save nearly $5.5 billion over five years. Since this publication is published in Maryland, and to give you an idea of how the new rule will hit home when it is finalized, nearly 30,000 Marylanders could lose benefits.

New FDA Commissioner

Last month, the Senate finally approved the new head commissioner for the FDA when it confirmed Dr. Stephen Hahn by a vote of 72 to 18. Hahn, 59, is a well-known radiation oncology expert and is the current chief medical executive of the University of Texas Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. The new commissioner does not have a track record on the food industry side of FDA, but his comments have been noted in various publications pertaining to his food issue learning curve. “I am not as familiar with FDA’s programs related to food but that does not change my commitment to these programs, particularly because the U.S. has the safest and most secure food supply in the world,” he said. So, in 2020 we will be watching and reporting how, for example, the new commissioner handles priorities for improving nutrition including regulating changes to sodium levels in food as well as implementing changes to e-cigarettes sold in retail stores.

Moving Forward In 2020

If there are any emerging issues that you are concerned about coming up on the Hill in 2020, drop me an email and I will check them out for you and perhaps report on them in upcoming columns. As for now, I wish you all a healthy and happy New Year.

Barry Scher is associated with the public policy firm of Policy-Solutions LLC and may be reached at Bscher@policy-solutions.net.