Defining Functional Foods

I have always been amused by the term "functional foods" – I mean, isn’t all food functional?  I suppose if you can pour it into your vodka to help you stay awake so that you can party all night, it does have an additional function over nutrition. 

The inevitable day – when the FDA would want to look at functional foods more closely will finally arrive on December 5.  At that meeting, the FDA will be looking at matters of safety along with claims of "speedier recovery time" and the like. 

J0402166Much of the focus has been on energy drinks, packed with caffeine.  But perhaps more important to everyone, however, the meeting will hopefully be honing in on definitions of what is a conventional food and what is a functional food.  According to the Federal Register Notice about the meeting, “functional foods” are defined as “foods and food components that provide a health benefit beyond basic
nutrition." 

Just reading the Federal Register notice made me dizzy with confusion:

"Currently, FDA has neither a definition nor a specific regulatory rubric for foods being marketed as “functional foods.” We regulate conventional foods being marketed as “functional foods” under the same regulatory framework as other conventional foods. Although we are confident that the existing provisions of the act are adequate to ensure that conventional foods being marketed as “functional foods” are safe and lawful, we believe that it would be in the best interest of public health to begin a dialog with industry, consumers, and other
stakeholders regarding the regulation of these products. Therefore, in this document we announce a public hearing to afford consumers, industry, and other interested parties the opportunity to provide focused comments on approaches to the regulation of conventional foods being marketed as “functional foods.” As background relevant to the hearing, we describe key provisions of the act regarding the safety and labeling of conventional foods."

When do you cross the line from Convention to Function?  Is fortified bread nutritious or functional?  And if it is functional, should it operate along a different set of standards than conventional food?  Currently, there is no framework that one can rely on to answer these questions, and it is these challenges that are more important than anything to do with the effects of energy drinks, which are like buying a pot of coffee packed in a few ounces. 

To register for the conference, click on this link

Persons who wish to request an opportunity to make an oral presentation must submit a notice of participation by November 14, 2006. All other persons must submit a notice of participation by November 28, 2006. Persons who request an opportunity to make an oral presentation also must submit either the full text of
the oral presentation, or a comprehensive outline or summary of the oral presentation, by November 28, 2006. Written or electronic comments (i.e., submissions other than notices of participation and the text, comprehensive outline, or summary of an oral presentation) may be submitted until January 5, 2007. The administrative record of the hearing will remain open until January 5, 2007.

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