WASHINGTON, DC – President Trump’s choice to head the Food and Drug Administration, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, was confirmed by the Senate this week and moves in to head the agency where he served as a deputy FDA Commissioner under President George W. Bush. The regulatory agency touches the rice industry at several points and if Gottlieb takes the agency in a new direction, there could be significant impact for the industry.
First, the FDA oversees food labeling, and in May 2016 unveiled new regulations regarding nutrition fact panels, (see “Updates to Nutrition Facts Panel Could Spell Rice Rewrites,” USA Rice Daily, June 1, 2016
). The new fact panel was set to take effect in July 2018 for large food companies and July 2019 for smaller companies. Several food industry groups, however, have asked the Trump Administration to delay the rollout of the new labels by another three years. (USA Rice has not petitioned the agency on this issue.)
There’s been no indication how the petition will be received, however, the President, Dr. Gottlieb, and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, (FDA is housed within HHS), have all made it clear they look upon regulations with a gimlet eye.
Additionally here, FDA has regulatory authority over not just statements of nutritional value, but food names and categories – something the rice industry has a growing interest in with the proliferation in the marketplace of “rice pretenders.”
“Vegetables that have gone through a ricer are still vegetables, just in a different form,” said USA Rice President & CEO Betsy Ward. “Only rice is rice, and calling ‘riced vegetables,’ ‘rice,’ is misleading and confusing to consumers. We may be asking the FDA and other regulatory agencies to look at this.”
The rice industry has also worked closely with FDA on food safety issues for the last several years.
“We’ve had as constructive a relationship as a regulated industry and their regulators can have,” Ward said. “We had healthy and vibrant discussions and I always felt like, even though we disagreed at times, both sides listened to each other.”
FDA is expected to continue its work “protecting the public health by assuring the safety, efficacy, and security of…our nation’s food supply,” and U.S.-grown rice is surely a part of that safe, sustainable food supply, so the industry and agency will continue to work together.
“FDA is an important agency with a serious mission and we look forward to working with Dr. Gottlieb and his team,” Ward concluded.