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Dairy industry seeks action on improper labeling and feed industry seeks improved regulatory timeframe.

Jacqui Fatka, Policy editor

November 15, 2021

4 Min Read
Robert Califf National Academies of Science.jpg
RETURNING TO FDA: Former FDA Commissioner for a year during the Obama administration Robert Califf returns to the agency as those in ag hope he'll focus also on the "F" in FDA. National Academies of Science, Engineering & Medicine

Following nearly a month of speculation, President Joe Biden officially nominated former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Robert Califf to lead the agency again.

“As the FDA considers many consequential decisions around vaccine approvals and more, it is mission critical that we have a steady, independent hand to guide the FDA. I am confident Dr. Califf will ensure that the FDA continues its science and data drive decision-making,” Biden said in a statement. “Dr. Califf had strong bipartisan support in the Senate in 2016, and I urge the Senate to swiftly confirm Dr. Califf so he can continue the important work being done at this critical moment.”

He brings nearly four decades of experience as a doctor, researcher, leader and public servant, including previous service as FDA commissioner from 2016-2017, for which he was confirmed by the Senate 89-4 with broad bipartisan support. Currently, Califf is a professor of medicine at Duke University School of Medicine, where he previously served as vice chancellor and founded the Duke Clinical Research Institute, and also works as Head of Clinical Policy at Verily Life Sciences, a life sciences research organization.

Michael Dykes, president and CEO of the International Dairy Food Association, encouraged Califf to put the “F” back in the FDA by focusing on making FDA more efficient and nimbler for consumers and more responsive to the feedback of industry.

“For decades, FDA leaders have promised to modernize food standards, for example, while allowing food makers more flexibility for innovation in response to shifting consumer demands and trends. However, food standards have become more complex and onerous, the FDA’s response times on pending rules and petitions has increased and promises to streamline rulemaking have not been kept,” Dykes says. “IDFA and our member companies are hopeful for a more collaborative relationship with FDA on matters of food safety, food standards, labeling, and nutrition and health.”

American Feed Industry Association President and CEO Constance Cullman notes currently it takes an averages three to five years for ingredients to be approved through the FDA’s rigorous review process. For each year of delay, it costs companies $1.75 million annually in revenue.

“As a medical doctor, Dr. Califf can appreciate that the science in animal nutrition is progressing just as quickly as the science in modern medicine, and producers need these ingredients to help their domestic livestock reach their full potential,” Cullman says.

The FDA also continues to stand behind an outdated policy that regulates some ingredients as ‘drugs,’ versus ‘feed,’ which has left the United States uncompetitive in the global landscape, as other countries are moving forward in record time with technologies that will enable them to achieve their climate goals.

“Dr. Califf will be instrumental in writing the next chapter in U.S. history by helping us not only to end this pandemic, but to provide the kind of thought leadership we need to play the long-game in many areas touched by food and agriculture,” Cullman says.

Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative says mislabeling of imitation dairy products remains an important issue for customers and farmers, and the co-op looks forward to working with Califf to halt the practice.

“It’s been frustrating to see dairy labeling be pushed aside by prior administrations. It’s time the FDA gets serious about correctly labeling food,” says Edge President Brody Stapel, whose co-op represents farmers throughout the Upper Midwest and is the third largest in the country based on milk volume.

“While the agency uses its enforcement discretion, dairy farmers lose out and customers are misled with products that use dairy’s good name to sell nutritionally inferior products,” he said. 

Stopping the use of untruthful labels on imitation dairy foods has long been a top policy priority for many in the dairy industry. Current law creates a clear definition of milk as “the lacteal secretion, practically free from colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows.” Regulations state that terms such as milk, cheese, ice cream and yogurt apply to products made from the milk of cows. Yet, the FDA allows the makers of imitation products to use those terms freely.

A national survey co-commissioned by Edge found that customers are confused about whether imitation cheese products are indeed dairy foods and whether they carry the same nutritional value. One-quarter of customers mistakenly think plant-based products labeled as cheese contain milk. One-third of customers believe that the products contain protein, and 21 percent think that it is of a higher quality than dairy even though the imitations have little to no protein. Real dairy cheese has 7 grams of protein. One-quarter of customers purchase imitation cheeses because they believe them to be low in calories and fat and without additives. In reality, these plant-based foods contain an equal or comparable amount of fat and calories and substantially more additives than dairy cheeses, the cooperative notes.

Jaydee Hanson, Policy Director at Center for Food Safety, urges Califf to rigorously defend safe food and ban harmful food contact substances, such as PFAS and phthalates. “We also expect him to strengthen FDA’s oversight of genetically engineered animals and finalize the environmental and endangered species reviews of genetically engineered salmon as required by the court,” Hanson adds.

About the Author(s)

Jacqui Fatka

Policy editor, Farm Futures

Jacqui Fatka grew up on a diversified livestock and grain farm in southwest Iowa and graduated from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications, with a minor in agriculture education, in 2003. She’s been writing for agricultural audiences ever since. In college, she interned with Wallaces Farmer and cultivated her love of ag policy during an internship with the Iowa Pork Producers Association, working in Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Capitol Hill press office. In 2003, she started full time for Farm Progress companies’ state and regional publications as the e-content editor, and became Farm Futures’ policy editor in 2004. A few years later, she began covering grain and biofuels markets for the weekly newspaper Feedstuffs. As the current policy editor for Farm Progress, she covers the ongoing developments in ag policy, trade, regulations and court rulings. Fatka also serves as the interim executive secretary-treasurer for the North American Agricultural Journalists. She lives on a small acreage in central Ohio with her husband and three children.

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