U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) policies make it difficult for the food and beverage industry to advise consumers of important health information, says Lisa Katic, director of scientific and nutrition policy for the Grocery Manufacturers of America.

The difficulty arises because key segments of the law governing how food and beverage companies can inform consumers about the scientific relationships between food and health are routinely misinterpreted by FDA, said Katic in written testimony to the Health Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The panel was holding a hearing on the 1997 Food and Drug Administration Modernization Act.

According to Katic, FDA will only allow manufacturers to make claims about the relationship between a nutrient and disease where "overwhelming" scientific agreement exists, though current law only requires that such claims be truthful, not misleading and supported by "significant" scientific agreement."

GMA said that the FDA interprets "significant scientific agreement" so narrowly that very few diet/disease relationships have been approved. As a result, FDA has allegedly permitted only a handful of claims despite strong evidence supporting a number of other potential claims.

"This was not the intent of Congress and it is not in public interest," Katic testified. Katic argued that FDA should change its policy and allow manufacturers to inform consumers about important health benefits based on emerging science, as long as the state of the scientific evidence is accurately described.

Katic also took issue with language FDA requires for claims the agency does approve, complaining the complexity of such statements is confusing.