Policy ForumSCIENCE AND REGULATION

Food and microbiota in the FDA regulatory framework

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Science  07 Jul 2017:
Vol. 357, Issue 6346, pp. 39-40
DOI: 10.1126/science.aan0836

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Summary

New understanding of how our gut microbial communities (microbiota) transform dietary ingredients into metabolic products that affect human biology is altering our definitions of the nutritional value of foods (1, 2). We are coming to appreciate how much formation of the gut microbiota during early postnatal life and the traits encoded by its several million microbial genes (microbiome) are important determinants of healthy growth and of our metabolic, physiologic, immune, and perhaps neurologic phenotypes (3, 4). These advances are spawning efforts to develop foods that promote healthy microbiota development during early postnatal life, prevent the loss of microbial diversity associated with Western diets, and repair abnormalities associated with various disease states (58). But given the mechanisms by which such microbiota-directed foods (MDFs) may achieve their desired effects, the existing U.S. regulatory framework presents challenges in determining how MDFs should be classified. How these challenges are addressed will affect innovation incentives, product quality, consumer access, and public health. Although approaches to regulation vary among countries (9), we focus on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because of its global influence and because the products it regulates are often widely distributed.

  • * These authors contributed equally to this work.