— OPINION —
By Sarah Gallo
When baby formula disappeared from shelves following a recall earlier this year, it raised the question of how something this big, affecting millions across the U.S., occurred under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s watch. Consumers rely on the FDA to ensure that safe, quality products are available every day in the marketplace. But the FDA’s reviews and policymaking processes have clearly fallen behind.
The importance of the FDA’s mission cannot be overstated. It can — and must — create a modernized regulatory system, paired with key structural and governance changes, to better provide for consumer safety and keep pace with rapidly evolving consumer preferences and growing opportunities to introduce innovative products to the marketplace.
Change is not only possible, it’s precedented. The FDA successfully modernized its medical products program several years ago, providing a model to follow and proof that critical updates to the food program are achievable. The Consumer Brands Association identified nine policies that would revitalize the FDA’s Foods Program through enhanced transparency and stakeholder engagement, creating a modernized agency that can more efficiently deliver on its mission:
- Commit to Timely Reviews – Ensuring more timely agency decisions on the safety and labeling of novel foods and food ingredients will help new products get to the market at the pace of the consumer.
- Reform Inspections to Improve Oversight – The FDA should move away from one-size-fits-all inspections to tailored, risk-based models for routine facility oversight. Inspections should use proven, data-driven methods, such as remote regulatory activities and federal-state coordination.
- Update the Recall Process – Harmonizing government recall processes and improving the FDA communication with consumers through updated channels such as text, email and social media will help quickly distribute notices of recalled products to prevent sickness.
- Make Labeling Flexibilities Permanent – The FDA should maintain and enhance the labeling flexibilities that proved successful during the early stages of the pandemic, ensuring products remained in stock in the wake of ingredient shortages. Additionally, it should embrace digital opportunities to share robust product information beyond the physical label.
- Improve Industry Collaboration – The FDA should formalize industry collaboration to expeditiously create and publicly share best practices, which successfully minimized disruptions in early pandemic response.
- Grow Consumer Transparency – Developing implementation plans for food traceability and product visibility will make supply chains more nimble and inform consumers’ purchasing decisions.
- Strengthen Chemical Management – Developing a transparent regulatory agenda for chemicals in packaging and products will inform the industry and help the FDA modernize risk assessments.
- Support Industry Sustainability Commitments – The FDA should be a leader and expert in sustainable food packaging initiatives. This will help the industry adhere to state recycled content mandates and packaging material bans, meet environmental commitments and fulfill consumer demand for sustainable packaging.
- Enhance IT Systems and Data Sharing – Empowering the FDA to collate and mine big data by providing funding to enhance IT will yield better-informed policy and more responsible use of government resources.
The FDA cannot wait any longer to implement significant and lasting change the agency requires and consumers deserve.
Sarah Gallo is vice president of product policy for the Consumer Brands Association, which represents nearly 2,000 iconic brands. From household and personal care to food and beverage products, the consumer packaged goods industry plays a vital role in powering the U.S. economy, contributing $2 trillion to U.S. GDP and supporting more than 20 million American jobs.