TIMELINE: Key Regulations During the Last 10 Years
1999• The Antimicrobial Regulatory Technical Corrections Act moves from the Environmental Production Agency (EPA) to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the responsibility for residues of antimicrobial pesticides on food packaging materials.
• California considers recycling mandates for food packaging. The legislation later dies.
2000• The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), as required by an Act of Congress, develops a program to certify equipment that processes and packages meat, ensuring that it can be easily cleaned. The program is to be funded by fees from equipment manufacturers.
• The General Accounting Office (GAO) reports that the benefits of food irradiation outweigh the risks. The report suggests that the major factor in the limited use of irradiation is consumer suspicion.
• The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) begins implementation of the Food Contact Notification program (mandated by the FDA Modernization Act of 1997) as the primary mechanism to clear new food contact substances for packaging and other applications.
2001• FDA commissioner Jane Henney says there is no reason to require bioengineered food to bear a label identifying it as such, since there is no evidence of any difference between bioengineered and “normal” food. But FDA subsequently asks the food industry to voluntarily label biotech foods.
• The USDA’s final standards for organic foods go into effect. The regulations establish permitted label claims for packaged food, depending on what proportion is organic, and clarifies that bioengineered food, irradiated food and food grown with sewage sludge as fertilizer cannot be called organic. In addition, use of certain processing aids, such as conveyor lubricants or cleaning agents, can preclude food from being called organic, unless those processing aids are on a USDA list.
• Congress overturns the Occupational Health and Safety Administration’s regulations on ergonomic design for packaging and other industrial equipment, saying they’re vague and too costly.
• FDA issues a warning letter to the food industry about using botanicals or other “novel” ingredients in food that are not approved as food additives or generally recognized as safe. The letter also notes that labels should not make health claims for such ingredients without FDA clearance.
• Bioterrorism Act is passed in response to the 9-11 attacks. FDA begins promulgating regulations on how the Act will be administered for food products and their packaging.
2002• FDA announces that product information on a food or beverage company’s website must meet the same standards as information on labeling.
• Product Packaging Act makes it a federal crime to insert unauthorized material into a consumer product package, even non-consumable material like propaganda pamphlets.
• Country-of-origin labeling (COOL) is included as part of a larger Farm Bill. It requires most unprocessed or minimally processed foods to say on the label which country or countries it comes from.
2003• FDA allows “qualified” label health claims, such as “…has been shown to reduce the risk of coronary disease,” for ingredients that don’t meet the “significant scientific agreement” standard but where the evidence for the claim outweighs the evidence against. Such claims still must undergo the FDA petition process.
• FDA requires trans fats to be listed on the Nutritional Panel of food and beverage packaging.
• FDA claims the right under the Bioterrorism Act to detain food, or its packaging, for up to 20 days while seeking a seizure order when it suspects a significant health risk. This includes inadvertent risks as well as intentional adulteration.
2004• Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act requires labeling to state if a product contains any of eight major allergens (eggs, milk, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts and soybeans). Implementation deadline is Jan. 1, 2006.
• FDA issues final record-keeping regulations related to the Bioterrorism Act. These require food packagers and suppliers of primary food packaging to establish and maintain records of where their products originated and where they’re shipped.
2005• Ten U.S. states, which are members of the Toxics in Packaging Clearinghouse, agree to coordinate enforcing laws banning certain heavy metals, including lead, cadmium, mercury or hexavalent chromium, from packaging. This includes systematic testing with handheld fluorescence analyzers. The laws, which date from 1989, are intended to keep toxic metals from leaching out of packaging in landfills and contaminating surrounding land and water.
• USDA rule takes effect requiring foreign wooden pallets to be heat-treated or fumigated prior to entry into the U.S. The purpose is to stop vermin and other infestations at the border.
• USDA notifies California officials that state Proposition 65, which requires food labels to note the presence of any of 750 substances deemed carcinogenic, conflicts with USDA’s authority to regulate meat processed at USDA-inspected plants. The action comes after the state attorney general receives complaints targeting several California meat processors. The State Attorney General’s Office contends that USDA has no authority to override the state regulation.
• COOL goes into effect for seafood. However, intense industry lobbying persuades Congress to delay implementing it for other foods.
• The Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTF) proposes a rule to require nutritional labeling of alcoholic beverages, along similar lines as foods and non-alcoholic beverages.
2006• California sues three major tuna canners under the state’s Proposition 65 for failure to put warnings on their labels about mercury in their product. The trial court finds for the canners, ruling, among other things, that 1) at least some of the mercury is naturally occurring, and this exempts them from the warning requirement, and 2) FDA regulations take precedence over a state’s. A California appellate court later affirms the decision.
• While declining to issue regulations about nanotechnology specifically, FDA participates in the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) to develop a definition of nanotechnology. FDA also forms a Nanotechnology Interest Group for its local centers to discuss approaches to future regulation.
2007• FDA rules that irradiated packaged food need not bear labels acknowledging that it has been irradiated, as long as the process meets certain guidelines.
• In the wake of scandals about tainted food originating in China, the U.S. and China sign an accord on Dec. 11 that includes registration and certification requirements for Chinese manufacturers that export food to the U.S. China promises to inspect all such manufacturers and report to the FDA any ones that fail.
• The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announces new initiatives for meat plant inspection. The changes include inspecting trim at the slaughterhouse, before it gets shipped and ground into hamburger; better tracking at both slaughterhouses and processing plants; and stepping up inspections at plants that rack up a high number of positive results on pathogen tests.
• The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) subpoenas 44 major food processors and fast food companies, including Kraft Foods, Unilever and General Mills, seeking information on how they market to young children.
2008• Following passage of an agriculture bill over President Bush’s veto, COOL takes effect for meat, poultry, fresh and frozen produce, and other unprocessed or minimally processed products. Canada, later joined by Mexico, files a complaint with the World Trade Organization alleging that COOL is a restraint on commerce that violates the North American Free Trade Agreement.
• FTC issues a report on marketing food to children based in part on the previous year’s subpoenas to major food companies. It states that the industry spent $1.6 billion in such marketing efforts-a sum that many industry observers found surprisingly high. The biggest single segment was carbonated soft drinks, at $492 million.
• Canada finds that bisphenol-A (BPA), a plastics additive widely used in plastic bottles and metal can linings, may be harmful to infants and toddlers, and announces that it proposes to call for its elimination from baby bottles. Additionally, Canada wants to limit exposure to the chemical when used in other packaging applications.
• FDA rules that BPA is safe, despite studies linking it to different forms of cancer. The agency is widely criticized for depending on studies funded by the plastics industry.
• FDA tells the Corn Refiners Association that it will not object to the use of the term “natural” on products containing high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). The agency accepted the industry’s reasoning that HFCS does not contain color additives or artificial or synthetic ingredients.
• A New Jersey judge dismisses a lawsuit against Dr Pepper Snapple Group that sought to force it to remove the phrase “All Natural” from Snapple labeling because it has HFCS. The judge rules that determining what is and isn’t “natural” is the sole province of FDA.
• FDA announces that it has no plans to require special labeling for meat or milk derived from cloned animals or their offspring.
• The deadline for regulation changes under the Bush administration closes without TTF taking any action on mandatory nutritional labeling for alcohol. Under federal rules, consideration is automatically deferred to the new Obama administration, but without any timetable or deadline.