NPA expresses support for FDA’s Nutrition Innovation Strategy in public comments

October 18, 2018

The Natural Products Association has submitted comments to FDA regarding the agency’s “Multi-Year Nutrition Innovation Strategy."

The Natural Products Association (NPA; Washington, DC) has submitted comments to FDA regarding the agency’s “Multi-Year Nutrition Innovation Strategy” released in January 2018. With its new innovation strategy, the agency aims to provide the public with more information that will help consumers make healthier nutrition and lifestyle choices and reduce their incidence of morbidity and mortality. The agency held a public meeting on the topic on July 26, 2018, and extended the public comment period to October 11, 2018.

According to FDA, its innovation strategy includes: “A standard icon or symbol for the claim ‘healthy’; a more efficient review strategy for evaluating qualified health claims; statements or claims that could facilitate innovation to promote healthful eating patterns; approaches for modernizing standards of identity; possible changes that could make ingredient information more consumer friendly; and FDA's educational campaign for consumers about the updated Nutrition Facts Label that consumers will be seeing in the marketplace.”

In its comments, NPA expressed support for FDA’s efforts to create a more streamlined and efficient regulatory structure and advocated for specific changes and considerations. NPA noted, however, that while the association applauds FDA efforts for efficiency, NPA does not advocate for more regulations, particularly with regard to evaluating health claims on product labels.

In its comments, NPA also petitioned FDA to consider areas in which it can better support public health and protect consumers. One such area is medical foods and foods for special dietary use, which NPA believes need broader, more transparent definitions. NPA said that medical foods have not been taken seriously enough and that the association believes that medical foods can be a major avenue for reducing morbidity and mortality from chronic disease. The trade group also states that foods for special dietary use lack a clear definition for their intended use because disease treatment claims are not permitted, which discourages innovation. “Many companies with novel approaches to food science are discouraged based upon a lack of clarity in the regulations,” the association said.

In addressing “modernizing standards for identity,” NPA took the opportunity to discuss FDA’s approach to the use of dairy food names like “milk” or “cheese” on plant-based products. Here, NPA urged the agency to consider how any efforts to prevent plant-based companies from using dairy food names will impact commercial free speech, citing legal precedent in which judges found that no reasonable consumer would confuse dairy milk with non-dairy, and insisted that the nomenclature issue does not pose a substantial risk to consumers.

Finally, in addressing “opportunities to make ingredient information more helpful to consumers,” NPA petitioned FDA to revise the way probiotic contents must be listed for consumers. Namely, NPA asked that the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition require probiotics and other ingredients, “where conveying ‘activity’ to consumers is important,” to be listed as colony forming units (CFUs) per serving as opposed to metric units per serving. “The reasonable consumer has an expectation that when they are purchasing probiotics, these are live microbial ingredients,” NPA wrote. “This would differentiate those companies selling dead microbials from those actually selling live microbial ingredients benefiting the health of the consumer.”

NPA also petitioned FDA to erect stricter parameters for calculating protein content. Currently, protein content is calculated using the nitrogen content of the product and multiplying it by a factor of 6.25. This allows companies to use nitrogen-containing amino groups that aren’t used by the body to create protein, rather than using actual protein. This enables bad actors to mislead consumers into thinking they are buying products with high protein content, when they are not.

“The increased demand for natural products means that a streamlined and efficient regulatory structure is critical in order to protect consumers and public health,” said Daniel Fabricant, PhD, president and CEO of NPA in a press release. “We are pleased to work with FDA and the Trump Administration to ensure that health-conscious American consumers have access to the products they use every day.”