Editor's Plate / Dietary Guidelines

Editor's Plate: Under Trump, Regulations Are Being Rolled Back

School lunch rules already changed, Nutrition Facts and GMO labeling being discussed.

By Dave Fusaro, Editor in Chief

And I'm not talking about Walmart price cuts.

With President Trump's food regulatory team now in place and his first 100 days in the rear view mirror, the attention now is turning to the rollback of past-administration rules and regulations that could have some very big impacts on the food and beverage industry.

The new president has shown a fondness for undoing the past administration's handiwork. As far as the financing and operations of food companies, most of the changes look positive and will be welcome by processors. In terms of food safety, nutrition and the industry's reputation with consumers, some caution is warranted.

A couple of policies and regulations already have fallen, and in being discussed are two big ones coming in 2018: national GMO labeling and the new Nutrition Facts panel.

By the president's own hand, gone are the Paris climate accords, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Johnson Amendment. In the cross-hairs are trade with Cuba, the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Waters of the United States rule. The Affordable Care Act? We'll see how that plays out.

Now his food czars are taking up the cause. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue in May rescinded rules in the School Lunch Program that required the use of whole grains and fat-free, white-only milk and a second round of sodium reductions.

Under its new commissioner Scott Gottlieb, FDA announced at least a one-year delay in the rule that restaurants must start displaying calories. A federal rule that would have required chain restaurants and other food retailers to post calorie information was supposed to take effect May 5. Just days before, the agency announced it will delay implementing the rule until May of next year.

Gottlieb has been rumored or reported to be taking second looks at pieces of the Food Safety Modernization Act, the new, more restrictive definition of fiber and the 2018 deadlines for GMO labeling and a new Nutrition Facts panel, among other things.

U.S Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina published his own report, "First 100 Days: Rules, Regulations, and Executive Orders to Examine, Revoke, and Issue," subtitled "What should be addressed by Congress in the First 100 Days of the New Administration." He suggests revisiting everything from rules on plastic surgery and use of sun lamps to parts of the Food Safety Modernization Act. Some of it's good stuff; some, like FSMA, he should keep his hands off. He claims – his mathematical accuracy unproven -- "In this last Administration alone, there were close to 4,000 finalized regulations, costing an estimated $980 billion, and adding thousands of paperwork hours to private businesses, states, and the federal government."

Meadows is well known for his flair for the dramatic. Whatever the real dollar figure, there undoubtedly has been a turn toward nanny state-ism in recent years, and it's costing the food and beverage industry plenty. It hasn't all been at the federal level – witness the soda taxes in a handful of cities (which look more like excuses to raise revenues than to curb or pay for obesity).

Getting rid of the truly onerous regulations is a great step forward and in line with improving America's business climate. But FSMA is a carefully crafted, bipartisan overhaul of a critical system that hasn't been updated in 75 years. There even was support from the food industry, consumers and the government. And whether you like GMO labeling or not, three things are apparent: a significant number of Americans, maybe even a majority, want it; it, too, was a carefully crafted and compromise solution; and if the states have any rights left, Vermont and some others will go back to forcing this issue.

Do you recall how nasty the GMO labeling debate was, how it separated consumers from the food industry and even divided members within the food industry? Let's not go back there.

So rejoice, food makers, in the logical and legitimate victories. But be careful how much more you wish for.