5 Potential “Gotchas” in 2024 Food Regulations

by | April 4, 2024

In what promises to be an active year for regulators and brands, the devil will be in the details for some food regulations.

Recent years have brought interesting regulatory challenges to the food and beverage industry. In the United States, a string of high-profile food safety incidents has put scrutiny on the effectiveness of regulators, while state governments have increasingly signaled impatience with the pace of change at the federal level. Meanwhile, the ongoing reverberations of Brexit continue to impact brands, manufacturers, and farms throughout Europe and the UK, while European ESG regulations have continued to gather strength. As always with regulation, some of the more intriguing challenges of compliance may deal with less-obvious impacts of new and changing rules. Let’s take a look at a few potentially tricky impacts of upcoming regulatory movements for 2024. 

1. Movement on microbes

In the US, the regulatory spotlight in 2024 will be on salmonella, particularly in poultry. The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is contemplating stricter performance standards for poultry producers, mandating lower salmonella prevalence rates. Additionally, we might see increased use of rapid testing technologies at processing plants to facilitate faster identification of contaminated batches. Driven by both strong consumer demand for additional safeguards against foodborne illnesses and a long-standing critique of the difference in treatment between salmonella and E. coli, many consider the newly proposed framework to be long overdue.

The “gotcha” factor

The challenge for some processors and manufacturers, however, will lie in tightening up processes that have long enjoyed a bit more leeway. While many of the changes brought about by stricter food safety standards will mostly affect slaughter and processing facilities, manufacturers that receive poultry products as part of their supply chain may need to look closely at their handling of inbound certificates of analysis, ensuring that COAs are examined carefully and maintained for ongoing recordkeeping.

2. Clarity on natural claims

Or maybe “natural” claims better represents the issue at handAfter many years of discussion, the FDA may officially tighten rules around the use of the term “natural” in food labeling and claims, following continued consumer concerns around synthetic materials appearing in so-called natural food items.

The “gotcha” factor

A subtlety lies in the fact the labeling standards will remain voluntary, meaning that brands won’t be required to declare whether products meet the definition of “natural” or not. However, brands wanting to assert that their products are natural will be required to adhere to the standard definitions. 

For some brands, this may pose an interesting question at the intersection of R&D and marketing. If product changes are necessary to meet the definition of a “natural” product, will it be worth it? Will consumer recognition of the new standards be sufficient to drive product performance on shelves nationwide? What path will competitors take? Brands in natural foods categories will need to pay close attention to how consumers react to the new standards and weigh their options carefully.

3. Complications surrounding food additives

In October of 2023, California state legislature made a landmark move to ban several well-established food additives that had long been approved or considered Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) by the FDA. Since then, the state of California has continued to take on industry-related issues from coloring additives to carbon reporting, signaling a clear political will to move faster than federal agencies. And with one of the world’s largest economies, California’s influence goes well beyond state lines, forcing a much larger conversation around whether state governments or federal agencies are going to call the shots on food safety and environmental regulation in the US.

The “gotcha” factor

Similar legislation is now moving through multiple other state jurisdictions in the States. This is creating a situation where brands operating in the US market need to track not just one set of regulations, but several. Moreover, state legislatures have proven themselves willing to move faster than the FDA while operating on different sets of scientific standards than those traditionally used by federal regulators. The result is not only a patchwork of regulations in the US (as well as the ongoing differences between the US and EU, the latter of which having already restricted several of the substances in question), but also a diverse set of methodologies by which regulatory standards are derived. For the time being, brands using any of a growing list of additive materials will have to manage a complex landscape to maintain compliance.

4. The impact of conservationism and EUDR

The European Deforestation Regulation (EUDR) is a surprisingly wide-ranging regulation requiring companies trading in an extensive list of commodities,along with products derived from them, to perform extensive due diligence on their supply chains to ensure that the items in question aren’t produced through activities associated with recent deforestation. Though not specific to food products, quite a few food commodities do fall under the regulation, including cattle, cocoa, coffee, oil palm and soy, along with derivative products such as chocolate, coffee products, palm nuts, palm oil derivatives, glycerol, soy-bean flour and oil, and more.

The “gotcha” factor

Unlike previous EU regulations, the EUDR takes things up a notch by setting its sights not just on illegal deforestation, but on practices that may be perfectly legal in the country of origin. If a product is produced on land recently converted from forest to agricultural use, or made in any way that resulted in forest degradation, then it falls under the regulation regardless of whether any local laws were broken. The idea being that a substantial percentage of global deforestation takes place within legal guidelines, even though the net environmental impact may still be harmful. When that’s the case, the EUDR doesn’t let brands off the hook, and will still penalize food producers who use legally produced products resulting in deforestation or the degradation of forest lands.

5. Scope 3 is dead; long live Scope 3

On March 6th of this year, the Securities and Exchange Commission officially adopted its climate-related disclosure framework for SEC-registered entities. A major part of the discussion leading up to formal adoption was whether the framework would require registered firms to capture and report Scope 3 carbon emissions. For those unfamiliar, Scope 3 carbon emissions reporting requires brands to understand and report not only the carbon emissions of their own facilities and logistics networks, but to report the net carbon impact of their entire supply chain. Scope 3 requirements, also known as the Corporate Value Chain Accounting and Reporting Standard, were opposed by many firms on the basis of the cost and complexity of meeting them, along with lingering ambiguity surrounding certain definitions within the proposed disclosure requirements.

The “gotcha” factor

The SEC isn’t the only regulatory body with carbon reporting on its mind. In the EU, the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) remains in effect and lays out a framework for Scope 3 reporting requirements for companies falling within certain economic parameters. Likewise, in the US, the state of California has implemented Scope 3 reporting requirements for companies doing business in the state with revenues in excess of $1B per year.  While the SEC’s action lets certain brands in the States off the hook for now, brands with an international footprint or ambitious growth plans in the US will have to consider whether Scope 3 emissions reporting factors into their near-term growth plans or not.

TraceGains is here to help

In a complex and ever-evolving regulatory landscape, the margin for error in product formulation, labeling, and new market entry has never been higher. With more than 15 years of experience navigating the global food and beverage industry, TraceGains offers the go-to solution for quality and regulatory compliance, paired with industry-leading tools for product formulationspecification management, and nutritional calculation and reporting.

Backing all of these capabilities is TraceGains Regulatory Global, an integrated data source for regulatory intelligence, new market entry data and up-to-the-minute restricted substance limits worldwide. Powered by SGS DigiComply, TraceGains Regulatory Global is a consolidated source of worldwide regulatory data powered by boots-on-the-ground expertise. Reach out to the TraceGains team to learn more.

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