U.S. consumers have long expected food manufacturers to provide safe, wholesome products. Despite the industry’s own efforts, along with often cumbersome but necessary FDA and USDA regulations, people still get sick and there continues to be public confusion over matters of food production, diet and nutrition. This comes as no surprise, given the complexity and size of a global supply chain that delivers countless products to store shelves and menus – and the exploding word-cloud of food marketing claims that accompany them.
The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), signed into law in 2011 by President Obama and just now beginning to be implemented, will strengthen government oversight and preventative measures protecting public health. Additionally, the FDA’s revised Nutrition Facts Panel, unveiled this spring to “make it easier for consumers to make better informed food choices,” will be enforced for large food manufacturers (over $10MM/year in sales) starting in July 2018.
We do not have a perfect system and never will. People will continue to get sick, both from food-borne illness and through their own decisions. But we should agree that this system of industry and government partnership generally has protected the public’s interest, even when indirectly. (Sustainable profit is always contingent upon a healthy, accepting consumer – sick people and recalls don’t benefit anyone.)
President-elect Donald Trump has promised to dramatically scale back what he calls the government’s “food police,” cutting regulatory obligations across production, safety and environmental protection. These measures could be positioned to reduce the tax burden by $1 trillion over 10 years and ease international trade. But at what cost? And what does the American public think of the idea? Nothing in politics hits closer to home than the food we eat. Of course, campaign promises are often not in sync with the realities of governing and President Trump may choose a different approach than candidate Trump.
It’s difficult to predict what changes are in store for food marketing professionals. But as a new regulatory climate starts to unfold, we should focus on what we can control – like offering the public greater transparency into how food is produced. Let’s build brand equity and create meaningful conversations with consumers. Because at the end of the day, they’ll hold food manufacturers accountable for the wholesomeness of what they eat – not whoever is sitting in the Oval Office.
What do you think the next 4 to 8 years holds for the food industry?