In response to a report issued today by the U.S. General Accounting Office, which focused on overseeing the safety of dietary supplements and "functional foods," Dr. Rhona Applebaum, Executive Vice President of Scientific and Regulatory Affairs for the National Food Processors Association (NFPA), made the following comments:

"The safety of both dietary supplements and functional foods is of paramount importance to the food industry. Nonetheless, NFPA does not agree with the GAO report's recommendation to Congress that the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act be amended 'to require makers of functional foods to meet the same requirements that currently apply to dietary supplements.' Functional foods -- those foods with health benefits beyond basic nutrition -- are foods, and as such they must meet the same regulatory requirements for safety and accuracy of label statements as conventional foods. Consequently, for GAO to suggest that functional foods be regulated differently than conventional foods is both unjustified and misguided.

The report -- titled "Improvements Needed in Overseeing the Safety of Dietary Supplements and Functional Foods" -- was issued by GAO on July 11, 2000.

"NFPA's position on all foods is that their ingredients must be safe, and any claims made concerning a food must be truthful, non-misleading, and supported by sound science. NFPA has urged FDA to establish a flexible and scientifically supported policy for health claims and structure-function claims on foods and supplements.

"Health claims and structure-function claims on food labels provide important information that can be used by consumers to create more-healthful diets. FDA already has full enforcement authority to ensure that such claims for foods are scientifically supported and do not mislead consumers.

"This report is also remiss in not addressing the FDA Modernization Act (FDAMA), passed by Congress in 1997, which helps improve the flexibility for food companies to make health and nutrient content claims. The report also fails to note that, in 1999, health claims were authorized for whole grains under FDAMA provisions. The U.S. Congress has shown through its enactment of FDAMA that it believes health claims provide consumers with important information, and that their use should be encouraged, not discouraged.

"The GAO report clearly states that 'Consumer's continuing interest in preventive health care means the consumption of dietary ingredients with health benefits beyond basic nutrition is likely to increase.' NFPA agrees that functional foods can play an important role in enhancing the health of consumers -- and we believe that national regulatory policy should be designed to help support the availability of functional foods and information on their potential health benefits.

"It is important to have a national regulatory policy that does not place barriers against the availability of functional foods for consumers or make it difficult for food companies to provide consumers with information on the health benefits of certain nutrients. To do so would clearly not be in the best interests of consumers."