As the old year draws to a close, we review the significant waypoints of 2009 and look ahead to what is likely to dominate next year’s news. Join us now for a whistle-stop tour of the news topics that made the headlines on our flagship food and nutrition websites in Europe and North America.
Europe: 2009 was the year when stevia sweeteners came to Europe.
French approval of high-Reb A stevia sweeteners was one of the most-read stories on FoodNavigator.com this year, as France became the first European country to allow manufacturers to use the natural, high-intensity sweetener in their formulations.
Full EU approval for stevia sweeteners is still dependent on a scientific opinion from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), but France has taken advantage of a loophole that allows individual member states to approve ingredients for a limited two year period. It is thought that companies using this window could gain market share while awaiting full approval – and some have been quick off the mark: Coca-Cola France has already reformulated Fanta Still with stevia only three months after French approval.
USA: The year began with food safety scandal in the United States, as peanut products were linked to a deadly salmonella outbreak across 46 states.
As the outbreak spread, the list of affected products grew, leading to the largest product recall in American history – more than 3,000 foods from hundreds of companies.
But there was much more to the story than the outbreak itself: The situation sparked intense debate about the state of the US food safety system.
About 76m Americans suffer from foodborne illness each year, 300,000 are hospitalized and 5,000 die. In 2009, a rash of regulation was introduced in an effort to reduce these statistics, proposing more inspections for manufacturers and tougher enforcement.
As we enter the New Year, food safety regulation intended to beef up the Food and Drug Administration’s regulatory muscle awaits a full hearing in the Senate. If it passes, we could see a serious shake-up for US food safety in 2010.
Europe: Two words: Health claims. Some want the European Union 2006 nutrition and health regulation got rid of, others see it as a godsend; somewhere in between lies the likely future for the EU functional foods and food supplements industries.
As the conduit between nutrition science and the marketplace, gaining the right to make little (but powerful) product statements of health have filled the European horizon like never before as controversial new laws kick in. So vital has the topic become. NutraIngredients hosted its first conference on the topic this month in Brussels.
To date, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has handed in opinions on about 600 of more than 4000 health claim submissions it has in its inbox and about 70 per cent of them have been negative.
Will this trend continue in 2010? It’s hard to say, but with most of the remaining claims due for judgement by EFSA scientists, it promising to be another compelling year for industry.
We’ll be there unpicking what it all means every step of the way in conjunction with our usual breaking coverage of the latest developments from the scientific kingdom, from the market and the industry that is your industry.
USA: As the Europeans are finding, regulatory matters dominate the North American scene, none more so than the final stages of Good Manufacturing Processes (GMP) implementation.
The much-debated regulation that seeks to ensure agreed quality standards are met in the dietary supplements industry, kicks into full operation in June, 2010, when the smallest players come on board. It’ll be interesting to see how the regulation functions then – whether it will act as the final piece in the Dietary Supplements and Health Education Act (DSHEA) jigsaw as it has been heralded to be.
The flipside is increased enforcement action from the FDA which, backed with more bucks from the Obama administration, and in cohorts with the FTC, has cracked down on formulation and marketing transgressions like never before.
In Canada too, the staggered implementation of its Natural Products Directorate drives standards up, albeit slowly, and not without criticism of being overly draconian.
All scrupulous players will be hoping the end-result is similar – a market serving affordable, effective, safe products backed by reputable science that meet real dietary needs.
2009 was the year of the two Ss - safety and sustainability. While the past 12 months saw industry and regulators make big statements on both, 2010 should shed more light on whose fine words will actually turn into actions.
In the United States, food safety has loomed large, with the safety spotlight trained on the meat industry as E. coli in minced beef became a national talking point. Trade practices and regulatory oversight were both questioned as millions of pounds of contaminated meat continued to be recalled despite assurances the system was safe.
Bisphenol A (BPA) in packaging was not just a major safety concern but became an issue upon which the Food and Drug Administration staked its credibility. The agency won plaudits for agreeing to review its BPA stance but is in real danger of squandering goodwill after failing to meet its own deadline on delivering a decision and refusing to discuss the reason for the delay.
If sustainability has become the buzzword for every company, critics warned of the dangers of ‘greenwashing’. But the best in all industries appear to be embracing eco-options as a way of helping the planet while saving money - and scoring brownie points with consumers. The economic imperative can fuel environmentalism.
But the crux is sure to come in 2010 and beyond after much of the fat has been cut away and the easier initiatives implemented. The coming year could help differentiate the eco-warriors from the greenwashers.
Best wishes for 2010
Whatever the future may hold, rest assured our reporters are dedicated to delivering independent breaking news, in their text, audio and video reports, on the topics that matter to your business directly to your desktop.
Wishing you happy holidays and a safe and profitable New Year.
The Editorial Team.