INDUSTRY SEEKS FASTER FDA RESPONSE

WASHINGTON (FNS) -- The food industry has warned a congressional panel that delays by the Food and Drug Administration to approve food additives are discouraging companies from investing in new additives and technologies.In a recent hearing before the House Subcommittee on Human Resources and Intergovernmental Relations, industry officials lambasted FDA's current approval system, which calls for a

WASHINGTON (FNS) -- The food industry has warned a congressional panel that delays by the Food and Drug Administration to approve food additives are discouraging companies from investing in new additives and technologies.

In a recent hearing before the House Subcommittee on Human Resources and Intergovernmental Relations, industry officials lambasted FDA's current approval system, which calls for a 180-day review period of food-additive petitions. Officials argued that FDA takes much longer to complete its reviews -- in some cases, more than a decade.

"The [current] system of approval is now so unpredictable and uncertain that businesses cannot make even reasonable calculations about the costs of developing a new ingredient and the timing of related investments to commercialize it," said Stephen Ziller, vice president of scientific and technical affairs at Grocery Manufacturers of America here.

Christopher Shays (R.,Conn.), chairman of the subcommittee, said the 180-day time period was prescribed by law and should be stringently followed by the FDA. Currently, the agency has accumulated a backlog of 295 petitions, some that have been pending since the early 1970s, he said.

Linda Suydam, interim deputy commission for operations at FDA, acknowledged there were problems with the FDA additive approval process, but insisted that legislation is not needed to correct the problem. The FDA has come up with a plan to expedite approvals, she said, that would use private researchers and expertise and eliminate environmental assessment requirements for many petitions. She also said FDA was planning to spend an additional $7 million on personnel to reduce the backlog of petitions.

Shays called on Donna Shalala, secretary at Health and Human Services, to submit legislative proposals by the end of this month to establish a shorter time frame for FDA review and action on food-additive petitions.