Politico Investigation Details FDA Dysfunction Over Food Regulation, Highlights Four-Decade Dairy Industry Effort to Update Yogurt Rules

WASHINGTON — “They ignore everyone. They ignore everything,” explained Michael Dykes, D.V.M., president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association, in a new Politico investigation of the long-standing dysfunction of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) regulation of foods released this weekend.

The investigation details the agency’s persistent failure to act on food issues, to be responsive to the public, and to allow for food industry to innovate to meet consumer preferences. In particular it highlights the case of the dairy industry’s four-decade effort to update the standard of identity of yogurt:

“Consider the case of yogurt. Roughly 40 years ago, yogurt-makers petitioned FDA to update its arcane standards of identity rules for yogurt, which stipulate things like minimum levels of milkfat and what types of ingredients are allowed. They didn’t get any traction. Years went by and no progress was made. Decades later, FDA officials would tell the industry that they didn’t have enough staff bandwidth to update the standard.

“Industry leaders responded by working with Congress over the course of three years to get FDA an additional $12.5 million to staff up. Still, they got little traction. Eventually, they got language into a spending bill that mandated FDA to give a progress update on yogurt to Congress. The agency ignored it.

“‘They ignore everyone,’ said Michael Dykes, president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association. ‘They ignore everything.’

“This past June, FDA finally updated the standard of identity for yogurt. Yogurt-makers hated it.

“‘We’ve been asking for this for 40 years,’ Dykes said. ‘And when they finally did it, we had no choice but to object to it. It didn’t even come close to acknowledging the things that our members do to make yogurt.’

“IDFA has formally objected to the final rule, an extreme step that is rare in policymaking. The group has sent at least two letters to FDA and the agency has not formally responded. Late last month, the agency paused its rulemaking. The 40-year journey for an updated definition of yogurt is now indefinitely on hold.

“‘This is broken,’ Dykes said, lamenting a complete lack of transparency, accountability and unwillingness to set deadlines or even provide industry basic updates. ‘The public deserves better, consumers deserve better, the industry deserves better.’

“An FDA spokesperson acknowledged the long delay.

“’The FDA recognizes that the timeline for updating the yogurt [standard of identity] took too long; new resources have allowed the agency to hire and train new staff to better support this work,’ the spokesperson said. ‘The FDA is committed to addressing the objections to the final rule amending the yogurt [standard of identity] in a timely manner.’”

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The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), Washington, D.C., represents the nation’s dairy manufacturing and marketing industry, which supports more than 3.3 million jobs that generate $41.6 billion in direct wages and $753 billion in overall economic impact. IDFA’s diverse membership ranges from multinational organizations to single-plant companies, from dairy companies and cooperatives to food retailers and suppliers, all on the cutting edge of innovation and sustainable business practices. Together, they represent 90 percent of the milk, cheese, ice cream, yogurt and cultured products, and dairy ingredients produced and marketed in the United States and sold throughout the world. Delicious, safe and nutritious, dairy foods offer unparalleled health and consumer benefits to people of all ages.