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Can You Believe it’s Not Mayonnaise?

Hampton Creek's Just MayoIn 1979, food technologists at J.H. Filbert developed a new vegetable oil-based spread. It looked, tasted, and felt like butter, but it contained no dairy and was not butter. What should they call it? As the story goes, a secretary tried the product and exclaimed: “I can’t believe it’s not butter!” The rest, as they say, is history.

About 35 years later, food technologists helped Hampton Creek develop a new product that contains no eggs but looks, tastes, and feels like mayonnaise. The problem: A food product is “misbranded,” and therefore not legal to sell, if it purports to be a food for which a standard of identity has been prescribed but fails to conform to such standard. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has established a standard of identity for “mayonnaise” that requires the product to contain egg. Therefore, like the Filbert folks, Hampton Creek had to decide what to name this new product. Continue reading

Single Food Agency: Theory vs. Reality

The Obama Administration’s recent budget proposal for FY 2016 endorsed the concept of establishing a single federal food safety agency—reviving discussion on what has been a long-standing issue. This initiative has generated many of the same talking points that have surrounded this topic for decades, including everyone’s favorite reference to the absurdity of a system in which the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) maintains processing oversight of a cheese pizza until pepperoni is added, at which point the oversight shifts to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Food Safety & Inspection Service (USDA FSIS).

There is near universal agreement that no one would design such a system if they were working off a proverbial clean sheet of paper. While this is undoubtedly correct, it forces us to juxtapose this theoretical point against the 100+ years of oversight, policy, and paperwork generated by the FDA, FSIS, and its predecessor agencies, not to mention other relevant players such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), and countless other state, local, and private parties. This history raises enormous practical and political barriers to change. We have a status quo maintained by a dizzying array of interests, both public and private, scattered through various government, departments, agencies, congressional committees, trade associations, labor unions, etc.  Keep Reading

What’s In a Name? Plenty if You Call It a ‘Drink’

Recently, the FDA released a long-awaited final version of its guidance regarding the differences between beverages and liquid dietary supplements. The “Guidance for Industry: Distinguishing Liquid Dietary Supplements from Beverages” had been promised over the course of the last two years as part of the ongoing dialogue between certain U.S. Senators and Congressmen and the FDA. So, now that it is out, what does it mean?

Of course, it is always important to remember that FDA guidances are not the law, but instead, reflect the FDA’s current thinking on the subject. That being said, while guidances aren’t law, they are instructive on how the FDA is likely to act regarding the topic and it is generally advisable to follow the guidance if a company does not want to run afoul of the FDA. Keep Reading

Change is coming, including federal food laws…

With Washington buzzing about change, here is my sense of the food policy legislative agenda for the next two years.

Health Care Reform
A major component of the Health Care Reform debate will be Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, which will likely include nutrition and obesity initiatives. Keep Reading