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Food-contact notifications threatened again

“We have already used the scorecard to evaluate two types of packaging,” said josh hannay, ruiz’s business development manager. “our company is looking forward to reducing waste while saving money.”

The Food Contact Notification (FCN) program is threatened with extinction, and if it seems like you read that same news about a year ago, that’s because you did.

As a means to get legal approval for new food-contact materials and uses, the Food and Drug Administration’s FCN program gives packaging makers and users an exceedingly efficient and beneficial alternative to the slower and less predictable Food Additive Petition process. But the FCN program has to be specifically funded to exist, says the law. And just like for 2007, the proposed 2008 federal budget calls for the program’s elimination, which would require packaging innovators to use the Food Additive Petition process.

Last year, the proposed budget cut the program, but lobbying, including efforts by a packaging industry coalition, successfully got it added back in to budget bills passed by both the House and Senate. Though ultimately the budget bills themselves weren’t passed, a holdover bill that simply continued existing federal expenditures was passed, so the program survived another year.

The FCN program has been a boon to packaging innovation and business in its approximately seven years of operation. What’s great about it is that FCNs are effective, and the new food-contact material can be legally marketed, after 120 days from submission of the notification to the FDA, unless the FDA affirmatively objects to the proof of safety first. This is quick and predictable, and the resulting approval is exclusive to the submitter. By contrast, Food Additive Petition reviews often can stretch out for years and petitioners have no practical recourse while a petition is under review. The resulting approval is a published regulation that anyone can rely on as a basis to use the approved substance.

A packaging industry coalition is lobbying to rescue the program again, although quietly. With support from industry and Congress, and even relevant FDA officials, the hope is that the path will be clear for the program to be funded once again. Some fear that debate over funding the program will be an annual event from now on.

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