YOUR SOURCE ON FOOD LITIGATION AND REGULATION

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA), through its Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) published its final rule (NBFDS Final Rule) on December 21 establishing a nationwide labeling disclosure requirement for foods containing bioengineered (BE) ingredients, defined as foods or substances that contain genetic material that has been modified through in vitro recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (rDNA) techniques and for which the modification could not otherwise be obtained through conventional breeding or be found in nature. While a more thorough analysis is still being conducted, here we provide a summary of the major topics addressed in the NBFDS Final Rule.

As readers are undoubtedly aware, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued a Food Safety Alert (Alert) on November 20 due to a multistate outbreak of E. coli-related infections linked to romaine lettuce. The CDC alert associated the product with 32 illnesses and 13 hospitalizations. Further, it advised consumers not to consume any romaine lettuce and advised retailers and restaurants not to serve or sell it. By rendering such products unsellable, the alert raised immediate questions concerning the identity of parties forced to bear the risk of loss. The issue has been addressed by the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act (PACA) Division through FDA Advisory Alert on Romaine Lettuce and the PACA (PACA Announcement).

On October 29, US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb announced that FDA is considering whether sesame should be disclosed on food labels as an allergen. Because sesame is not identified as a “major food allergen” under the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA), the ingredient is not always required to be stated on the food label. Rather, in some cases, sesame can be listed generically as “spice,” “natural flavor,” “tahini,” or other nonspecific ingredient names, which can lead to consumer confusion and uncertainty.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and US Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a joint statement on November 16 indicating that both FDA and USDA will jointly oversee the production of cell-based food products derived from livestock and poultry. The proposed regulatory framework generally involves the FDA overseeing cell collection, cell banks, and cell growth/differentiation, and USDA overseeing the production and labeling of the food products following cell harvest. While it is encouraging to see the agencies working together to resolve this threshold question, it simply sets the stage for further evaluation of any number of challenging questions.

On November 6, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that its final guidance on Questions and Answers Regarding Mandatory Food Recalls: Guidance for Industry and FDA Staff (Mandatory Recall Guidance) is now available. The Mandatory Recall Guidance provides information on the implementation of the mandatory food recall provisions of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The Mandatory Recall Guidance comes in the form of a Q&A on common topics about the FSMA’s mandatory recall provision.

Sonic Drive-In reached a $4.3 million settlement on October 10 with its customers over the chain’s data security breach in 2017 that exposed customer credit and debit card information at 325 Sonic Drive-In locations.[1] The attack followed a pattern familiar in the retail and restaurant context, where hackers infect the point-of-sale system with malware that copied and transmitted the information from consumers payments cards when used to make a purchase. Plaintiffs filed several class action lawsuits for violations of state consumer protection laws and data breach notification statutes, along with various common law causes of action. The lawsuits were consolidated into a multidistrict litigation proceeding in the Northern District of Ohio in early 2018.

The US Food and Drug Administration issued a draft guidance document on September 6 stating it will allow use of the colony forming units (CFUs) unit of measure in the Supplement Facts panel. The draft guidance applies to what are colloquially known as “probiotics,” or dietary supplement products that contain a live microbial dietary ingredient. Under current regulations, dietary supplement ingredients can only be quantified by weight in the Supplement Facts panel. However, the use of weight to measure live microbial dietary ingredients can be inaccurate or confusing because weight does not distinguish between live and dead microorganisms, and does not reflect the occurrence of cell death of live microorganisms over the course of a product’s shelf life.

However, CFUs describe the quantity of live microbial dietary ingredients, and can help consumers identify the amount of living microorganisms in each product and make comparisons across dietary supplement products on the basis of that information. Accordingly, while FDA considers whether to conduct rulemaking to formally change the unit of measure, it will allow use of CFUs in the Supplement Facts panel of probiotics under certain conditions. For more information on the circumstances in which CFUs may be used, as well as other information on the guidance, please read our LawFlash, FDA: Probiotic Products Can Use CFUs on Supplement Facts Panel.

In recent months, questions about the potential future marketing of what will be termed herein “cell-cultured meat” (CCM) have moved outside the confines of biotech laboratories and tech funders’ boardrooms and caught the attention of both regulators and a much broader segment within the general public. As the regulatory future of such products starts to come into focus, debates and discussions have been generated within the food industry over three interlocking issues:

  1. Jurisdiction: What federal agency should be responsible for overseeing such products?
  2. Oversight: How should such products be regulated?
  3. Labeling: How are they to be identified to the consumer?

For a more comprehensive discussion of the emerging regulatory landscape for CCM read the article by Morgan Lewis lawyers Robert Hibbert and Amaru Sanchez in Food Quality & Safety magazine.

As always, if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) held a public meeting July 12 on “Foods Produced Using Animal Cell Culture Technology” to give the public an opportunity to provide comments on federal regulation of the future production of foods using animal cell culture technology. While a thorough account of the all-day meeting is beyond the scope of this article, we wanted to share with you our main takeaways from the meeting, which can be lumped into three categories: jurisdiction, regulatory oversight, and labeling.

The FDA on June 20 issued the first four chapters of a nine-chapter draft guidance titled “Mitigation Strategies to Protect Food Against Intentional Adulteration” (IA Draft Guidance). The IA Draft Guidance is intended to assist industry in developing and implementing a “food defense plan” (FDP) in accordance with the “Mitigation Strategies to Protect Food Against Intentional Adulteration” Final Rule (IA Rule).[1] The IA Rule requires domestic and foreign food facilities that are required to register under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (the FD&C Act) to address hazards that may be introduced with the intention to cause wide-scale public health harm by developing said FDP.[2]