Congress directs F.D.A. to pick up pace on Nutrition Facts Panel dates

by Jeff Gelski
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Nutrition Facts Panel
 

WASHINGTON — A congressional spending package includes language that directs the Food and Drug Administration to speed up its process for finalizing two rules, said Lee Sanders, senior vice-president of government relations and public affairs for the American Bakers Association. One involves determining a compliance date for the new Nutrition Facts Panel and the other involves determining whether certain ingredients meet the agency’s definition of dietary fiber.

The congressional agreement directs the F.D.A. to finalize the Nutrition Facts Label Rule and the Serving Size Final Rule before July 26. Under a current F.D.A. proposed rule, manufacturers with $10 million or more in annual food sales would have until Jan. 1, 2020, to come into compliance, and manufacturers with less than $10 million in annual food sales would have until Jan. 1, 2021. The F.D.A. has yet to finalize the rule, leading to confusion and market disruption, according to language in the spending package.

The congressional agreement also directs the F.D.A. to issue its conclusions on the status of pending dietary fiber ingredients “expeditiously.”

“Bakers are eager to make the appropriate changes necessary to keep consumers informed,” Ms. Sanders said. “Unfortunately, many are left in a quandary while waiting to see if their current fiber sources will be accepted for continued use with no clear deadline for compliance.”

The F.D.A. in the May 27, 2016, edition of the Federal Register defined fiber for the first time. Ingredients may qualify as fiber if they are non-digestible carbohydrates (with three or more monomeric units) and lignin that are intrinsic and intact in plants. Isolated and synthetic non-digestible carbohydrates (with three or more monomeric units) also may qualify if they are the subject of an authorized health claim or if the F.D.A. rules in favor of a citizen petition. The F.D.A. has yet to rule on petitions on different potential fibers, including inulin.

Congress also has limited changes to sodium policies until proper scientific studies are conducted, which allows additional time for bakers to weigh in on the F.D.A.’s Food Safety Modernization Act Intentional Adulteration proposals. Congress said concerns remain about the F.D.A.’s ability to meet its legal obligation to protect trade secrets and confidential commercial information the F.D.A. obtains from its regulated industries. The F.D.A. is “overdue” in describing how it will protect such information, according to the congressional agreement.

“We are grateful that Congress is working to clear up industry and consumer confusion over the updated Nutrition Facts Label, specifically on fiber and sodium,” said Robb MacKie, president and chief executive officer of the A.B.A. “A.B.A. also applauds the correction of the ‘grain glitch’ in the recently passed tax bill that inadvertently could have caused significant disruption in the supply chain.”

The legislative provisions are designed to solve the “grain glitch” by amending section 199A as it exists in current law, under which producers may deduct up to 20% of gross payments received on sales of agricultural cooperatives, without certain limitations based on income. Meanwhile, farmers selling to private/independent companies are restricted to deducting 20% of net business income, a considerably smaller deduction.

The new legislative language seeks to restore the competitive landscape of the marketplace as it existed in December 2017 so that the tax code does not provide an incentive for farmers to do business with a company solely because it is organized as a cooperative or private/independent firm.

The A.B.A. worked with the National Grain and Feed Association and other farm groups to push for solutions that could impact the cost of ingredients needed to produce baked foods.

“We commend the steadfast bipartisan, and bicameral, leadership to swiftly correct the ‘grain glitch,’” Mr. MacKie said. “Fixing section 199 restores the level playing field in the commodity markets.” 
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