2020 was a year like no other: the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted travel, business, sports, entertainment, education, and nearly every aspect of life. We attended conferences virtually, worked from home, and wore masks when we left our houses. But while the world certainly changed, it did not stop. The business of regulating flavors & fragrances proceeded with changes and updates around the world.
In the US, the biggest change in the regulatory landscape was the implementation of the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard. Published in 2019, the regulation requires food containing bioengineered genetic material to be labelled as such. Essentially a GMO labelling law for the US, implementation of this regulation began in 2020, extended to all food manufacturers in 2021, with mandatory compliance beginning in 2022.
The US also considered expanding its list of food allergens requiring identification on labels, reviewing the addition of sesame. Discussions continue into 2021 as the FDA gathers comments from experts, the industry, and the public. The EU, Canada, and Australia, and others already require sesame disclosure on labels due to allergen concerns. As a result, many firms with international trade may already be prepared to manage changes to US allergen requirements. With concerns regarding sesame in many parts of the world, and the FDA’s increased scrutiny on allergens under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), action on sesame labeling is likely.
The FDA also proposed updated rules for food traceability. This continuation of FSMA updates aims to improve food safety in the US by creating a Food Traceability List (FTL) of foods with the highest risk of common foodborne illnesses. This includes items like seafood, fresh produce, and dairy products, among others, and would require that records be kept with key data associated with critical tracking events.
In the European Union (EU), probably the most impactful change in decades was Brexit, the exit of the UK from the EU. As we enter 2021, the UK maintains its alignment with EU food regulations, but has initiated reviews that will likely loosen rules and requirements in order to promote trade. As an example, the UK is streamlining its rules on organic foods and ingredients to give greater clarity and support practices like the use of non-organic natural flavors in organic foods. This coincides with the official announcement of an organic equivalency between the US and UK such that ingredients accepted as organic in the US are also accepted as organic in Great Britain.
Although genetically modified organism (GMO) regulations have been in place in the EU for decades, recent court cases and legislative actions led to reviews of the regulatory definition of GMOs. These court and legislative actions expand the definition to include technologies that manipulate genes within an organism in addition to the more traditional definition that a product is considered a GMO if genes were introduced from one organism into another species. This change could greatly increase the number and types of foods requiring GMO labels. Post-Brexit, the UK is considering keeping the original definition of GMOs as foods developed from introducing one species’ genetic material into another, limiting the expansion of foods requiring labeling.
In Asia/Pacific countries, there were several regulatory changes that could impact the flavor business. China finalized an update to their compound flavoring regulation GB 30616, and this updated regulation (GB 30616-2020) goes into effect March 11 2021. This update redefines compound flavors (mixtures of two or more flavor substances and/or flavoring adjuncts) to include flavor enhancers, and clarifies the definition of flavoring adjuncts as any additive, preservative, or solvent/diluent in the flavor formulation. In addition, GB 30616-2020 expands the list of acceptable solvents in finished flavors and eliminates some food colorings from the accepted list of flavoring adjuncts. This revision also further clarifies requirements for thermal process flavors in China.
In Japan, regulators compiled a list of acceptable raw materials for use in direct contact with food. Article 18 of the Japanese Food Sanitation Act requires that any packaging or equipment in contact with food items must be made of an approved material, impacting almost all polymeric materials as well as resins and agents used in polymers. Japan is taking a risk-based, phased approach in implementing this regulation.
In Australia/New Zealand, allergen declarations were the subject of new regulations. In addition to labeling allergens, their sources (e.g. wheat, barley, rye, etc. for gluten, and almond, cashew, pecan etc. for tree nuts) must also be declared. In Indonesia, halal labeling requirements continue to be expanded and clarified with the release of guidelines for halal certification. Additionally, several Asian nations including Korea, India, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam issued updates to their respective lists of ingredients allowed in food and food ingredients such as flavors.
2020 was certainly an exceptional year. Despite all of the unexpected changes as a result of COVID-19, food regulators continued to refine regulations and requirements to ensure a safe and flavorful food supply. Whether we are cooking at home like most of us did this past year, picking up carry-out or eating out, regulatory bodies make sure we do so safely.