Biotechnology initiatives announced
The Clinton Administration on May 3 announced several initiatives regarding biotechnology: The Council on Environmental Quality and the Office of Science and Technology Policy will conduct a 6-month interagency assessment of federal environmental regulations pertaining to agricultural biotechnology and, if appropriate, make recommendations to improve them. FDA will take steps to ensure that it is informed at least 120 days before new agricultural biotechnology crops or products are introduced into the food supply and will propose that submitted information and the agency’s conclusion be made available to the public. FDA, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, and the Environmental Protection Agency will support an expanded program of competitively awarded, peer-reviewed research focusing on current and future safety issues. FDA will develop guidelines for voluntary efforts to label food products as containing or not containing bioengineered ingredients. USDA will work with farmers and industry to facilitate the creation of reliable testing procedures and quality assurance programs for differentiating non-bioengineered commodities. USDA, FDA, EPA, and the State Dept. will enhance domestic and foreign public education and outreach activities to improve understanding of the U.S. regulatory process. And USDA will provide farmers with reliable information on markets to inform their planting decisions and with best farming practices for new crop varieties.

How FDA will address biotechnology
FDA announced on May 3 that it plans to refine its regulatory approach regarding foods derived through biotechnology. It will propose to require developers of bioengineered foods and animal feeds to notify the agency of their intent to market a food or animal feed from a bioengineered plant at least 120 days before marketing. After reviewing the company’s submission, FDA will issue a letter to the firm describing its conclusion about the regulatory status of the food or animal feed. FDA will also propose that submitted information and the agency’s conclusions be made available to the public via the FDA Web site. FDA also announced plans to draft labeling guidance to assist manufacturers who wish to voluntarily label their foods being made with or without the use of bioengineered ingredients.

Clinton announces Listeria measures
President Clinton on May 8 announced steps to reduce Listeria-related foodborne outbreaks, including a requirement that processors systematically test their plants for Listeria. He said he wants to cut the rate of Listeria illnesses in half by 2005, five years earlier than the administration’s current goal. Under rules that USDA expects to propose in four months, processors will be required to test for the bacterium on equipment, floors, and other areas around the plant to prevent it from getting on meat products. Many plants already conduct such testing but are not required to do so.

How can the additive petition process be improved?
FDA is requesting comments on ways to improve the premarket review and approval of food and color additive petitions. Deadline for comments is July 19. Details are in the Federal Register of May 5 (65 FR 26215-26216). For more information, contact A.M. Rulis at FDA, 200 C St., S.W., Washington, DC 20204 (phone 202-418-3100).

Changes in meat and poultry HACCP regulations requested
USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service is requesting comments on a petition submitted by seven trade associations asking the agency to amend its Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point regulations for meat and poultry products to increase their effectiveness and make them more consistent with the HACCP principles published in 1997 by the National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Food. Deadline for comments is July 14. Details are in the Federal Register of May 15 (65 FR 30952-30956). For more information, contact P. Derfler at USDA/FSIS, Washington, DC 20250 (phone 202-720-2709).

Notification replaces petition process for approving food contact substances
FDA has published a direct final rule amending its regulations on environmental impact considerations as part of the agency’s implementation of the FDA Modernization Act of 1997, which established a notification process for food contact substances; this process will be the primary method for authorizing new uses of food additives that are food contact substances and will largely replace the existing food additive petition process for such substances. Deadline for comments is July 25. Details are in the Federal Register of May 11 (65 FR 30352-30355 and 30366-30369). For more information, contact M.A. Cheeseman at FDA, 200 C St., S.W., Washington, DC 20204 (phone 202-418-3083).

Schools given flexibility in meal plans
USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service is giving schools greater flexibility in planning menus that both meet the nutrition requirements of the school lunch and breakfast programs and appeal to schoolchildren, by allowing schools to use “any reasonable approach” to plan menus, in addition to the traditional meal pattern. Details are in the Federal Register of May 9 (65 FR 90 26903-26931). For more information, contact R.M. Eadie at USDA/FNS, 3101 Park Center Dr., Alexandria, VA 22302 (phone 703-305-2620).

About the Author

IFT Fellow
Editor Emeritus of Food Technology
[email protected]
Neil Mermelstein