For decades, everyone has known the FDA moves at a glacially slow pace. USDA too. Scientific rigor requires patience, often decades of it.
But in my 30 years of covering the food & beverage industry, I don’t recall this much pressure being put on those food safety regulators by individual states. California is certainly the leader, but there's just as much pre-emption coming from bleeding heart liberal states like Illinois as conservative ones like Texas and Missouri.
We've been reporting since last October California’s disapproval of four food additives suspected of being carcinogens. Red dye No. 3, brominated vegetable oil, potassium bromate and propylparaben are banned effective Jan. 1, 2027. Titanium dioxide was in the original bill but was dropped during debate. Just last month, Illinois representatives introduced a nearly identical bill, with titanium dioxide included.
Let's switch subjects to animal welfare. Again, it's California, which last month was to start enforcing its Proposition 12, which requires that all pork, eggs and veal sold in the state – regardless of where they were raised or processed – must be from farm animals raised under more humane housing conditions, primarily more room for the animals to move around.
At least 15 states have passed similar policies on farm animal welfare, according to The Acheson Group, although they apply only to animals raised within those states. By 2026, hog gestation crates will be banned in 10 states.
Let's switch subjects again, this time to marijuana. According to the FDA, anything that's been identified as a drug, legal or illegal, cannot be used in food. That's cut and dried. Apparently there's some statutory rule that prevents the agency from even considering otherwise. And yet 24 states have legalized or decriminalized marijuana, and each holds a cottage industry making THC-infused food and beverage products for sale only within that state. And you can't pass a strip mall anywhere without seeing a shop that sells CBD.
One last time switching subjects: No one wants to see heavy metals in foods, especially those intended for children. The FDA seems to have taken swift and appropriate action in the applesauce pouch poisonings that dominated the news in late December. Generally, "We ... work with federal and state partners to support growers’ implementation of mitigation practices, by developing guidance to industry on action levels for heavy metals in foods commonly consumed by babies and young children," an agency spokesperson told us in an email. So they're studying it, all right, and in a couple of years might come up with some rules.
Process needs to be respected, especially if you're a ubiquitous government agency with nothing short of life-and-death decisions on your plate. But if we worked as slowly and deliberately as the FDA, you'd be holding the July 2022 issue of Food Processing in your hands.
As the FDA continues to flesh out its new Human Foods Program, there are lots of proposals on the table, and deliberation and debate are certainly warranted. But I think the most important element of the new Human Foods Program should be speed. The ability to make quicker (but not snap) decisions. Paying heed to the needs of the food & beverage industry, acknowledging the lag times between product development, sourcing and getting a product on the shelf. But putting consumers and food safety first.
Then FDA can make California and all those other states play catch-up, not the other way around.