Gottlieb talks ‘healthy’ icon, milk, clean meat
Departing Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb today said that the agency is considering using a “healthy” food icon that might include the FDA symbol, and on Thursday talked about the word “milk” and cell-based protein at a Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hearing.
Gottlieb, who will leave FDA shortly, was interviewed today by former FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan at an event sponsored by the Alliance for a Stronger FDA.
During the interview, Gottlieb said that FDA is considering use of an icon to signal to consumers that the agency considers a food healthy. That icon may or may not include the FDA symbol, Gottlieb said.
It is unclear when FDA will conclude the process of defining what it considers to be “healthy” food. Gottlieb said that the agency should issue the rule this summer, but an aide accompanying Gottlieb said agency staff are still going through the comments received on the definition.
“One of the things we’re contemplating inside the agency right now is the icon itself,” Gottlieb said. “There’s sort of rigorous debate going on about whether or not we include the FDA logo in the logo, in the healthy logo.”
Both today and at the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hearing Thursday on President Donald Trump’s fiscal year 2020 FDA budget proposal, Gottlieb stressed that FDA must go through a careful rulemaking process or get challenged in the courts.
The rulemaking issue came up when Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., said at the hearing that FDA should enforce its standard of identity that milk must come from a lactating animal. Baldwin noted that dairy farmers are experiencing severe economic troubles, and one of the issues is what they consider unfair competition from plant-based products that use the term milk.
Gottlieb noted that the agency is examining standards of identity for a range of products and said the “critical question” regarding milk is whether consumers “perceive a certain nutritional value” when they see the term milk. He noted there had been a case of a child who drank rice milk and faced nutritional deficiencies.
Gottlieb told Baldwin he understands that the dairy farmers are going through a difficult period. But he added, “We have to go through process or will get challenged. We do careful rulemaking.”
Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and John Hoeven, R-N.D., the chairman of the subcommittee, also questioned Gottlieb about whether protein grown in a laboratory should be labeled as meat or poultry. But Gottlieb said that decision will be made by the Agriculture Department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service under the agreement that FDA and USDA have signed to share jurisdiction over the development of cell-based protein.
At today’s event, Gottlieb noted that some people expected him to withdraw some Obama-era initiatives such as restaurant menu labeling, but Gottlieb said he saw the menu labeling and other issues “as very important public health rules that needed to be implemented.” Gottlieb noted that the proposals had been sustained in court.
“That is the importance of going through a careful process,” he said.
Gottlieb said he thought the most important accomplishment he had at FDA was changing the relationship of the agency and opioids to attempt to reduce addiction. Gottlieb said that overprescribing has been reduced, but the addiction problem has continued due to people being introduced to illicit drugs through recreational use.
On food safety, Gottlieb said consumers expect unsafe food to be recalled quickly and that they want the food traced back to the source. People want a better assurance of food safety, he said, and the agency is expanding its inspections on farms and of imports. Technology will improve food safety in the future, he added.
Most of the discussion and questions at the event today were about the drug side of FDA rather than the food side of the agency.