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Food & Ag Policy Briefing: No ‘special case’ for CBD, counter claims over dairy demand

Also, climate label scheme launched in Sweden, concerns raised over EAT-Lancet's recommended diet

Hemp-derived CBD will not be fast-tracked for approval to be used in foods and supplements, according to a leading FDA official, who added that the agency has ongoing concerns over the lack of safety data.

It is not hard to quantify why food and supplement manufacturers want FDA to get a move on in creating a regulatory pathway for CBD – US consumers bought some $200 million of CBD foods and supplements last year and the market is expected to nearly double this year.

But FDA Principal Associate Commissioner Lowell Schiller, the co-chair of FDA’s CBD working group, said that despite pressure for quick action, FDA has to follow its controlling statutes and regulations and has concerns about the potential ramifications of carving out an exemption for CBD.

“But there’s still much we don’t know — about the consequences of long-term use, about the risks to vulnerable populations, and lots more," Schiller told the Council for Responsible Nutrition’s (CRN) recent annual conference in Carlsbad, California.

"As we continue to work as rapidly as possible to figure out how to address this popular ingredient that until very recently was a controlled substance, it’s important to remember that there are no special rules for CBD.”

Schiller’s comments echoed prior statements he and other FDA officials have made on CBD and suggest the agency is not phased by pressure from manufacturers — as well as hemp growers and dozens of federal lawmakers — eager for federal rules allowing use of the non-psychoactive cannabis extract in foods and supplements.

The regulatory issue for FDA is that since CBD is approved as an active drug ingredient for the treatment of epilepsy, the agency must craft an exemption under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) to allow uses in food and supplements.

Agency officials have repeatedly said they lack the safety data to approve such uses and have cautioned that the regulatory bar for approving an exemption under the FDCA is high and will take several years to complete.

But that has frustrated stakeholders keen for swift action in light of the booming market for CBD and a growing patchwork of state regulations. Several states, including Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, and Oregon, have passed legislation allowing use of CBD in foods and supplements while many other states have followed FDA's lead and declared such uses illegal.

Dairy demand weakening?

The U.S.-based International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) has insisted that demand for dairy products is not weakening, despite the country’s leading producer filing for bankruptcy last week.

Following continuous financial struggles over the past couple of years, and a recent break from IDFA, the 94-year-old Dallas, Texas-based Dean Foods, which produces brands such as Dairy Pure, Organic Valley, and Land O’Lakes, said Tuesday (November 12) it has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection – a move that Dean Foods said is rooted in declining dairy consumption.

“Despite our best efforts to make our business more agile and cost-efficient, we continue to be impacted by a challenging operating environment marked by continuing declines in consumer milk consumption,” Eric Beringause, who recently joined Dean Foods as president and CEO, said in a statement.

Following the claims by Dean Foods, IDFA President and CEO Michael Dykes was quick to respond by saying that the association will continue to work with all players in industry to ensure that "a safe, reliable supply of milk continues to move from farmers to consumers”.

He added that demand for dairy products is growing, in contrast to the claims made by Dean Foods. “The fact remains that overall consumption of dairy products is at historic levels and demand for dairy in the United States and around the world increases each year,” Dykes said.

But it cannot be denied that the dairy giant’s struggles have come amid a rapid rise in popularity of plant-based milk options, which led Dean Foods to take a firm stance against the labeling of plant-based products with traditional dairy terms, such as milk.

Just last month, Dean Foods announced it was leaving the IDFA because the dairy trade group would not take a firm position on the matter.

Climate impact initiative launches

Swedish grocery chain Mat.se and the state-run Research Institutes of Sweden (RISE) have teamed up to offer a system that can show the carbon footprint of 3,000 different food and drink products.

Launched last week, products that customers search for on online retailer Mat.se’s website are accompanied by a figure showing the carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emitted in their production, developed by RISE.

The store’s algorithm also recommends “climate-smart alternatives” so that customers are provided with information to be able to compare and choose products with a lower carbon footprint when certain search words are used. After they pay, they receive a summed-up CO2e value for their entire purchase.

Since products like potatoes, rice and pasta can be presented next to each other, the online channel allows customers to compare and choose an alternative food product with a lower CO2e value.

A product’s CO2e value is affected by a multitude of parameters in a lifecycle analysis, including transport, source and processes. For example, various types of heating energy for greenhouses are also taken into account as well as energy used in processes such as producing feed for livestock and farmed fish.

“We aspire to be a pioneer that drives innovation and development in important and relevant areas, and we have worked hard since 2018 on analysing the CO2e values in our assortment together with RISE to be able to take this important step towards a more climate-smart society,” Karin Jelkeby, manager of the initiative at Mat.se, said.

“We have also tested the model on a smaller scale during the course of the project, and this showed that about half of our customers were interested in being able to make climate choices when they shop for food. This proved to us that the issue is important for our customers, and it is therefore an important project for us.”

EAT-Lancet report criticism

Finally, sticking to the diet recommended by the EAT-Lancet Commission report published in January this year would lead to greater nutrient deficiencies and “not save many lives”, participants at a conference in Brussels last week heard.

Under the proposed diet, the current global consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar would have to decrease by more than 50%, while consumption of nuts, fruits, vegetables, and legumes would need to double.

But Dr. John Gilliland, Director of Agriculture and Sustainability at the research company Devenish Nutrition, cited the EAT-Lancet study as he took aim at the “pipeline of international reports” that “connect farming, food, human health and climate change” and are putting agriculture “under a microscope”.

According to the calculations made by Devenish, the worldwide adoption of the EAT-Lancet diet would help to avoid 11 million premature deaths, mainly due to reduced sodium intake and increased consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts.

However, at the same time, “a 90% decrease in red and processed meats intake will not save many lives, but will result in greater deficiencies in iron, omega 3, calcium, vitamins D and B12 and protein, with disproportionate effects on women and children,” Gilliland argued, adding that far more people would get ill due to nutritional deficiencies.

“You actually need a balanced diet of meat, plants and dairy products,” Gilliland continued.

He stressed that ruminants are crucial to achieve such a nutritional outcome, as the animals eat poor-quality roughage and turn it into high-quality meat and milk. “Targeting meat production is unfair,” the Irishman declared.

In his view, the biggest challenge for the agri-food industry by 2050 will be to work out how to produce enough healthy food with the lowest climate impact.

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