Time to let go

by Laurie Gorton
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The federal Standards of Identity were first promulgated as part of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938.
 
Who needs the federal Standards of Identity anymore? These regulatory “recipes” are more than outdated. They actually get in the way of innovation.

Now would be a good time to throw them out. Ingredient lists are printed on every food package sold in the US. Declaration of nutrient content is mandatory. And the Internet provides ready references revealing what is in foods. What need does the American consumer have for a set of “recipes” dating back almost 80 years? Times have changed. Consumers today are so much more knowledgeable about what goes into their foods. They are more in the know about food safety and often have a different idea of what “safe” means.

There’s good incentive for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to act. During his first days in office, President Donald Trump made a promise to cut regulatory burdens. He said he will require elimination of two such rules for every new one added. Previous administrations have pushed deregulation, but none so forcefully. If FDA is to carry out its mandate to safeguard our food supply, and that is clearly what Congress and the US public want it to do, then it will be writing new regulations for a long time to come.

The federal Standards of Identity were first promulgated as part of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938. This was an era when food companies had great freedom on selection of ingredients. Generic names — milk, bread, ketchup — applied to products of widely different compositions, and the consumer had no way of knowing what was in one company’s product vs. another’s.

According to a history recently published by FDA, Congress wanted to change this, to establish Standards of Identity that would resemble a home recipe and define ingredients in terms that consumers could readily identify and find in any well-stocked pantry. (Does this sound familiar in today’s clean-label movement?) FDA supported the standards because they simplified enforcement. It was an attempt at a level playing field. And it worked well during the 1940s and 1950s. Then came 1990 and the Nutritional Labeling and Education Act, which made nutrition labeling mandatory. Consumers could easily learn what was in a food. No longer did they need to seek out and read a Standard of Identity written in government legalese and tucked away in the Code of Federal Regulations.

Alas, the level field had some unseen potholes. Standards limit the application of creativity to stock products. Remember the fight over white chocolate? Or cherry pie? Why can’t we add folic acid to whole wheat bread? Why is fortifying a hamburger bun considered misbranding? All involve an intrusion of the standards into the innovation process.

Advise FDA to remove these standards as soon as possible. It’s time to let go.
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