1. Since starting at GMA a little over a year ago, what operational goals has the Science and Regulatory Affairs (SRA) department accomplished and what goals does the department want to focus on moving forward?
The foundation of the Science and Regulatory Affairs department is made up of industry knowledge, science capability and experience. To build on that foundation and to ensure there is clear direction, we began working at the beginning of 2011 in collaboration with SRAC and the senior leadership team to develop a new mission statement and defined four key focus areas that include policy, research, education and service.
Under these areas of focus, we established clear objectives that led to the establishment of projects, initiatives and programs. We’ve been building the capability of our laboratory operations and updating our strategy for the claims program; increasing and fine-tuning our educational and training programs to be more comprehensive on topics such as the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), food safety, food labeling and much more; we’ve focused on conducting and publishing research beneficial to our members and the industry as a whole; and finally we’ve worked closely with government affairs to put renewed effort on policy areas that are of critical importance to GMA members.
2. The SRA department serves as a vital liaison between industry and federal agencies such as FDA on many projects, including FSMA implementation. What unique value does that type of collaboration provide to members?
Our active work with federal agencies means our member’s views are heard where needed. GMA’s scientific credibility is highly valued and respected. This respect allows us to deliver significant information to the agencies. We are also able convey agency concerns back to the industry. This collaborative interaction allows us to influence thinking in ways that are grounded on good science.
3. What are the top priorities and initiatives SRA will focus on in 2012?
There are three important areas where we will focus our energy in 2012. Firstly we will be working hard to represent member’s interests in a broad range of science policy matters including FSMA, consumer product and ingredient safety, and nutrition and health. We will do this to ensure members’ interests are protected as new government policies are defined and implemented.
We will focus on increasing the range of services available from science operations laboratories. Members will be able to use GMA technical services to help solve a broad range of problems in areas that include process authority, microbiology, product forensics, packaging integrity and analytical chemistry. We will be reaching out directly to technical staff of member companies to ensure they know who at GMA is readily available to help them solve their important technical issues.
We are also increasing the leadership and technical capability within the SRA organization. We have recently hired Dr. Robert Burns as Vice President of Nutrition and Health and Dr. George Dunaif as Vice President of Food Safety and Technical Services. These leaders have over 50 combined years of experience working in the food industry and represent tremendous additions to the SRA team. We are also actively recruiting for open positions in food safety and analytical chemistry to further develop the problem solving capabilities of the GMA SRA technical operations team.
4. Chemicals management has become an increasingly important area for the CPG industry. What specific chemicals management issues will GMA focus on in 2012?
One of our main chemicals management initiatives in 2012 will focus on Tox 21. This is a massive government-funded research initiative that is underway to develop new high throughput methods intended to predict toxicity to human cells of thousands of chemicals rapidly and cheaply.
The risk to CPG companies is that new data from these tests, coupled with the current focus on disease prevention, will falsely impugn the safety of food ingredients and effectiveness of current risk and safety assessment processes. New research methods and data should not be used for regulatory and industry decision-making until rigorously validated for predicting human health effects. In order to protect GMA members, SRA is initiating work to ensure that the emerging science is validated and used appropriately.
5. Last month, GMA and a number of other industry groups submitted comments to the FDA on preventive controls for food facilities, including hazard identification and control measures associated with certain types of food or specific methods of processing. How else has GMA been working with the FDA on developing this regulation and guidance?
Since the enactment of FSMA, GMA has taken the lead in working with FDA on regulation development. We’ve held more than 15 face-to-face meetings with FDA at GMA offices. We’ve created 11 working groups comprised of GMA members and staff industry experts to focus on specific topics within the realm of FSMA regulation development.
With over 400 GMA members participating in our efforts, we’ve created a SharePoint site that allows easy sharing of technical information and have held bi-weekly working group conference calls since the Act passed in January 2011.
In addition, GMA initiated a FSMA coalition consisting of more than 75 non-member stakeholders who meet on a monthly basis. The coalition ensures industry messages are harmonized and consistent and assists in making strategic choices of what stakeholders should lead on specific topics. The coalition meetings also provide an opportunity for the industry to share ideas, updates on current activities and intelligence on upcoming FSMA related items.
GMA also helped coordinate and facilitate multiple stakeholder meetings, including two hosted by the Chamber of Commerce and two hosted by the Pew Charitable Trusts and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
6. Over the last nine months, the FDA has been very busy implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). FDA’s activities will only accelerate in the next several months, particularly as it promulgates regulations to implement key provisions in the Act. What issues do you expect the FDA to focus on in the coming months? Which of these issues does GMA expect to submit comments on?
In early 2012, GMA expects to see proposed rules in four subject areas including preventative control for food, preventative controls for animal feed and produce safety and foreign supplier verification.
GMA has established a comprehensive strategy to prepare an industry response to these new regulations. The strategy includes plans to evaluate the contents of the regulations, assess the economical impact of the proposed rules, develop comments and gain understanding of changes to protect the interests of GMA members.