Robb Mackie, CEO and president of American Bakers Association (ABA), said major political issues - such as North Korea and health care - have made the current administration slow down the process of nominating candidates who make regulations for the food industry.
“It is a challenge across government,” he said. “They have all the secretaries appointed, but below that are only one or two deputy secretaries and an assistant secretary – those are the people who run the day-to-day operations of those agencies [FDA, USDA].”
US fiber producers facing shutdown threats
Mackie noted the lack of food regulators could eventually cause many domestic fiber producers to shut down.
The FDA recently changed what can be classified as dietary fiber on the nutrition facts label, as opposed to its previous ruling that included a wider range of fiber types.
Its latest ruling, published last year, states any claims of dietary fiber must include “certain naturally occurring fibers that are ‘intrinsic and intact’ in plants and added isolated or synthetic non-digestible soluble and insoluble carbohydrates that the FDA has determine have beneficial physiological effects to human health” on the label.
Mackie said this new ruling has eliminated many of the fibers that have been well used and documented by baking companies for decades.
“Consumer research shows more fiber in diet is good, even for chronical illnesses, but the FDA is running the opposite direction on that,” he said.
The FDA currently allows 26 types of fibers to appear on the nutrition facts panel, including gum acacia, apple fiber and pea fiber, according to its website.
“The FDA asked manufacturers to submit a significant amount of scientific data on the health benefits of dietary fibers, [which has not been approved to appear on the nutrition label]; we asked the FDA to roll that back,” Mackie said.
“The challenge is we have domestic fiber producers making fibers that used to be on the approved list who now face foreign competitors that produce fibers that are approved by the agency.
“The concern is domestic fiber producers could potentially go out of business if this situation [the lack of appointees] goes on for too long,” he said.
Mackie did note ABA is working with the FDA to redefine dietary fibers and they are hoping reach a conclusion by the end of 2017.
It is all about timeliness
The government's lack of FDA nominees could also effect those bakery and snack companies that have updated their nutrition facts labels ahead of the FDA's compliance date.
The FDA announced earlier this summer it will extend the compliance date for the nutrition label rule - originally set at July 2018 for large companies and July 2019 for smaller ones - however, it has not yet given a new timeline.
Elizabeth Avery, president and CEO of SNAC (a snack industry trade association), said: “The biggest challenge is timeliness – being able to have an adequate amount of time to phase in the labeling changes so that companies don't have to change labels a second time.”
She said the Trump administration’s “pro-business” mindset is proactive in cutting corporate taxes, but it's “anti-regulatory agenda” could inhibit business growth.
“We very much appreciate the FDA's willingness to engage with us and hearing our point of view, but we also recognized how hard it is for them to move the regulations forward,” she said.
“They frankly need more help.”
Both Avery and Mackie said their organizations are advocating for a clear compliance date of the new FDA nutrition facts label.