GAO: weaknesses in functional foods regs

The GAO says current laws and regulations provide only limited assurance of the safety of dietary supplements and functional foods.

The government’s General Accounting Office (GAO) says current laws and regulations provide only limited assurance of the safety of dietary supplements and functional foods (foods to which ingredients have been added that offer health benefits beyond the food’s basic nutrition). In a report issued in July, the GAO made recommendations to both Congress and the FDA to correct weaknesses in the system.

Congress should:

•Amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to require that functional foods meet the same requirements as dietary supplements.

•Establish an expert panel to reexamine the current approach to labeling to determine whether or not the intended distinctions between structure/function claims and health claims can be made clear and meaningful to consumers. If not, what changes are needed to improve consumers’ understanding of health claims?

Among the GAO’s recommendations to the FDA were:

•Develop regulations or guidance on safety-related information required on labels of dietary supplements or functional foods.

•Develop regulations or guidance on evidence needed to support structure/function claims.

•Develop and implement a strategy to take enforcement action against companies marketing products with unsupported structure/function label claims.

The National Food Processors Assn. (NFPA) took issue with the GAO’s recommendations, saying they go beyond what is necessary. The association says functional foods must already meet the same tough labeling requirements for safety and accuracy as conventional foods.

Relatedly, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a Washington, DC-based consumer activist group, is calling on the FDA to halt the sale of dozens of functional foods it says contain ingredients not considered safe by the agency.

Companies in this article
More in Coding, printing & labeling