by RDBA Executive Director Annette Maggi, MS, RDN, LD, FAND
Regulatory affairs is an area that tends to ebb and flow. There are a variety of regulatory topics trending right now, and we want to ensure retail dietitians have the latest updates as well as our assessment on the impact on retail.
Delays, delays and more delays. Originally scheduled to go into effect on December 1, 2015, regulations requiring calories and nutrition information be posted or available on foods ready for consumption in restaurants and retailers with 20 or more outlets were postponed until December 1, 2016. Announced on March 9, the date for required compliance with this regulation has again been pushed back, with no clear date yet defined.
Retail Impact: While many retailers feel FDA has not provided enough specific detail on how to comply with the regulation and agree with the delay to allow FDA time to define all the nuances, those retailers who understand the consumer need for transparency are moving forward to provide this information to their shoppers. At this stage, it's more about competitive positioning than it is about a regulatory compliance date. Assessing the nutrition value of ready-to-eat foods is a logical extension of retail health and wellness programs, and will attract health-conscious shoppers who seek convenience.
Everyone is watching Vermont, where a law requiring labeling of all foods with genetic engineered components goes into effect on July 1, 2016. But everyone should be watching the Senate to determine if they can block this law. The issue here isn't "right to know"; it's about the strain on our food supply if state-by-state laws are enacted instead of a national policy. Companies will need to capture growing methodology on all ingredients from all suppliers. Additionally, they will need to make internal decisions about whether various ingredients are truly genetically engineered (think vegetable oils which may have a crop protection gene inserted, but as the product is 100% oil with no protein, there is no GE material in the product sold to the consumer). Some companies may begin to seek ingredients in a non-GE form to avoid making GE statements on the label. All of this work has a cost in the food supply chain.
Retail Impact: If the Vermont law takes effect, labels on your store shelves will begin stating the presence or lack of genetic engineered ingredients in food products because food companies will not create separate labels for and ship separate product to one state. Retailers should be prepared to respond to consumer questions on this topic, have information readily available on private label brands (as shoppers will make comparisons amongst national and private label brands), and understand that food prices have the potential to increase in light of this legislation. Forward thinking retailers will consider other "right to know" topics that consumer may demand be presented on labels in the future (think pesticide, hormone, or antibiotic usage).
Updated Nutrition Facts Panel
While FDA was targeted to release the final regulation updating the current Nutrition Facts panel in March, this did not happen. The regulatory process for approval of final regs has many steps, and based on where the updated regulation is in the process, it will be at least four or five months before the final regulation appears. The compliance period is anticipated to be two years after the publication of the final rule. The current administration has a strong desire to push this regulation through, and most experts anticipate the final regulation will be published by year's end.
Retail impact: RDs working in private label on regulatory compliance should be anticipating the impact and cost to update to the new label format. Long term health and wellness strategies should include consumer education on how to use the new format.