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FDA Commissioner Closes Term with Comments on Sodium and Standards

Apr 09, 2019
Scott Gottlieb, M.D.

Scott Gottlieb, M.D., ended his nearly two-year tenure as commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration on April 5. In an interview with Politico on Friday, Gottlieb highlighted his successes and provided insight into two agency priorities that will have an impact on the dairy industry: sodium reduction and standards of identity.

Sodium reduction

Gottlieb said the anticipated guidance on voluntary, short-term targets for reducing sodium levels in food “is now in final clearance inside FDA.” The guidance likely will be issued in the next four to six weeks, he said.

He told Politico, “I don’t think people should be at all surprised about where the FDA landed on this. If the packaged food industry wants to start a lobbying campaign against voluntary guidelines, I think they risk ending up with multiple regimes in different states and municipalities.”

Two years ago, FDA requested input on a plan to push the food industry to reduce salt levels in more than 150 foods, including 13 cheeses, butter, dairy dips, pizza, snacks and baked goods. IDFA and the National Milk Producers Federation responded in December 2016, asking FDA to exempt the entire cheese category from the sodium reduction targets due to salt’s role in food safety and quality.

Standards of Identity

Gottlieb also provided insight into FDA’s current thinking on updates to the standards of identity for milk and other dairy products. Talking about plant-based foods and drinks, he said it’s important for the agency to help consumers understand and learn more about the nutritional content of the products they’re choosing.

Instead of limiting the use of the terms “milk” and “dairy” to traditional products, he said FDA could require plant-based products using those terms to meet specific nutritional standards through fortification.

Earlier this year, IDFA submitted comments to FDA in response to the agency’s request for information about plant-based milks and dairy products. The comments included nearly 250 pages of publicly available surveys, published journal articles and other data that pertained to specific questions FDA asked about consumer use of and understanding about dairy and plant-based products.

IDFA stressed that the use of dairy terms on plant-based foods and beverages is important to the industry and urged the agency to conduct its review in a transparent and inclusive way. For more details, read “IDFA Urges FDA To Take Informed, Transparent Approach to Use of Dairy Names in Labeling of Plant-Based Foods.”

Ned Sharpless, M.D., Named Acting Commissioner

Norman E. “Ned” Sharpless, M.D., became acting commissioner of FDA last Friday. Before that, he served as director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) since October 2017. Prior to his NCI appointment, Sharpless served as the director of the University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, a position he held since January 2014.

Sharpless received his undergraduate degree in mathematics at UNC–Chapel Hill and his medical degree from the UNC School of Medicine. He completed his internal medicine residency at the Massachusetts General Hospital and a hematology/oncology fellowship at Dana-Farber/Partners Cancer Care, both of Harvard Medical School in Boston.

IDFA Looks Ahead

“The U.S. dairy industry appreciates the vital role that the FDA holds for food safety, standards and labeling, and we appreciated former Commissioner Gottlieb's strong interest in food safety and in working to launch and advance the Agency’s Multi-Year Nutrition Innovation Strategy that encourages industry innovation to improve the nutrition and healthfulness of food, including standards modernization,” said Cary Frye, IDFA senior vice president of regulatory affairs.

“IDFA looks forward to FDA continuing its strong leadership and industry collaboration on food related issues in the future under Dr. Sharpless,” she said.

For more information, contact Frye at

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