On September 10, 2013, the Food and Drug Law Institute (“FDLI”) hosted a conference, “Safeguarding the Functional Food and Dietary Ingredient Supply Chain“. The Conference concerned a variety of emerging requirements and compliance issues for functional foods and dietary ingredient or supplement manufacturers and distributors in view of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (“FSMA”). Signed into law on January 4, 2011, FSMA has been called “the most sweeping reform of our food safety laws in more than 70 years.” Among other things, FSMA shifts the focus from responding to contamination to preventing it to ensure the U.S. food supply is safe.
The Conference Keynote, Daniel Fabricant, Ph.D., FDA’s Director, Division of Dietary Supplement Programs, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Office of Foods and Veterinary Medicine, remained throughout the program and provided insights regarding FDA’s view on “functional foods” and dietary ingredients. First off, FDA has not officially recognized that there are “functional foods”, despite understanding that many people are self-treating based on information gleaned on the Internet or elsewhere with the hopes to either prevent or mitigate potential or current health issues. According to Fabricant, while dietary supplements may make certain health (structure/function) claims with adequate scientific evidence, FDA does not authorize foods to make health claims; instead, FDA considers foods to make statements about taste, aroma, and nutritive values.
In Fabricant’s view, it is not clear where industry should go when looking for guidance on functional foods, which are viewed by industry as foods with legal structure/function claims. FDA is concerned about the potential for harm: (1) invisible (hard to detect), (2) conscious (deliberately tainted), or (3) catastrophic (affects many people). Fabricant suggested that energy drinks, for example, have been suggested as a functional food, but many of these products include caffeine, which is a drug or conventional food. But the physical attributes of the product is not the primary determinant. Here, FDA is developing guidance to distinguish liquid dietary supplements from conventional, food-type beverages. What FDA has seen is that companies engage in “category hopping” to pick the category that where they best meet the requirements, but good manufacturing practices (“GMPs”) often remain an issue. And in FDA’s view, many products over rely on “bad” information rather than “competent and reliable scientific evidence.” Here, FDA looks whether a particular claim is substantiated– what is the meaning of claim, the relationship of scientific evidence to the claim, the quality of evidence, and the totality of evidence in view of the claim. The biggest “pitfall” Fabricant mentioned is an over-reliance on disease treatment studies and confusion regarding intended use.