Hello team FoodGrads!
I received this question from a student recently;
I’m pursuing my BSc Food Science. I am interested in regulatory affairs / food labelling. What can I be doing now to prepare myself for this path when I graduate?”
This question was viewed almost 40K times when I posed it to my network on LinkedIn–clearly a hot topic that generated lots of comments and advice. If you are interested in this career path, hear from industry members (Canada and US) on what steps to take (and brace yourself, its a long one!)
Feedback from the Food & Beverage Industry
Amy Proulx if you are Canadian, read the Guide to Food Labelling for Industry from the CFIA.
Michael E. Hickey Study these labels from a regulatory perspective based on actual policies. This will entail reading some fairly bland whitepapers. You should definitely familiarize yourself with the Food Safety Modernization Act. It’s usually important to make the effort to avoid talking politics in the business setting when you can. However, this is NOT true in your case. You need to do some digging in your personal time to understand the Democratic/Republican conflicts on a policy basis. Get a feel for ‘who wants what’ and how these regulations impact the economy. Chances are you will need to do this independently. One example comes to mind: Should labelling GMO-based ingredients be required? The policy debate is generally advertised as one that is health-focused but financial markets important too when mass psychology is being manipulated. In other respects, you want to know where these numbers come from. What technologies are used to determine these values quantitatively. Scientists can be stubborn. One line of researchers might swear in the literature that one approach is better than another. You need to be aware of the debates but most importantly understand what each governing agency recognizes as the ‘standard measure.’
Adam Yee Study the new Label proposals for the Food Safety Modernization Act, especially in regards to serving size and added sugar. Huge companies are hiring by the truckloads such as Safeway/Albertsons to get all of their SKU’s under this label. Studying and showcasing that you know about the FSMA is the best way to get a job in regulatory in the US. In long term situations, study the differences between countries. Some laws might be more obscure than others. In the international company I work for, Australia has the strictest food regulatory so we base everything on that. European Union has a harsh GMO law, Canadians have to label sugar alcohols. That comes from experience but you will be very valuable when you master this!
Paige Smoyer I agree with all the points Adam made. I was in the same position as you when I was in college and thinking about what careers I could choose with a BSc in Food Science. I decided that regulatory affairs/food policy was the right path for myself, so I researched companies that are involved in this field of work. In DC, I found that most, if not all, trade associations representing food industry sectors have regulatory affairs departments/staff members. I started reaching out to those contacts and asked about internship opportunities. From there, I ended up having three internships at different firms/associations (even one right after graduating) working on a variety of food safety, nutrition, and agriculture issues. I suggest reading up/researching FSMA, Nutrition Facts Panel (added sugars, dietary fiber, formatting, mandatory declaration of nutrients), Safe Food for Canadians Act, EU regulations, the GMO Labeling law that was passed by Congress this past summer (now at USDA AMS), etc.
In addition to reading up FSMA and other regulatory literature, Get an internship as well, be specific about your internship interest! The benefits of internships cannot be overemphasised. Ola Afolayan
Juan Salinas Always remember to stay true for the consumer. If you are being asked to play with the regulations to benefit the company but you know it may be misleading to the consumer. Challenge it.
Eric Butrym Come to terms early with the difference between perception and actual risk. Broad consumer sentiment often drives behavior that would seem strange if we lived in an entirely logical world. Also, cultivate relationships all along the value chain. You will learn as much from the Sales and Operations people as you will from your Regulatory colleagues.
Rene Duchesne Study the regulations, understand the reasons for failures. Spend some time with people in industry (Those actually working in the field).
Ali Rana I would recommend connecting with people working for the CFIA or Health Canada and pick their brains regarding the subject matter you are interested in.
Taylor Boling Start reading regulations now, see if you can make sense of them. Figure out if you can decipher how they apply to your favorite products. Read trade journals for new ingredients and do thought exercises on what is a processing aid and what is an ingredient, and how would it need to be labelled. Develop some historical context for good regulations and why certain laws or practices are necessary.
Marino Pichardo Look into the new regulation and start familiarizing yourself with what has changed. Perfect time to get into since all companies have less than a year and half to change all the labels.
Jasmin Baik Experience is a key, you will never be ready- regulations everywhere are designed and written in away that is open to different interpretations.
Akhila Vasan, Ph.D. In the next couple of months, GMA should post internship opportunities for summer 2017. Other trade associations also do this. One of the best aspects of working for a trade association is the network you build and the experience you gain.
If you are interested in regulatory science and food labelling, consider reading information on the FDA website. Also I concur with others on understanding current regulations and perhaps find a way to be involved in research studies on the effect of labelling or consumer understanding of the Nutrition Facts Panel
Amy Wise Figure out your interest. Are you interested in compliance, food safety, nutrition, ingredients or policy? Start following along with interest. Most start with learning the basics on use of tools and processes. It’s hands on experience that will prepare you best.
Steve Armstrong Consider a seminar in food law so you can have the basics. All the refs are based on the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Don’t read it all, let an instructor guide you. This can be done after you get your bachelor’s degree.
Caroline Leonard, MBA Read the news and know the trends.
There has always been an industry shortage of competent regulatory affairs and labelling specialists. This arena is constantly evolving with new government rules and requirements. For a Food Science undergraduate, there is little focused academic training in these specializations. Internships, along-side of experienced professionals, will launch you into a very successful food industry career. Don’t look for the pay as much as the experienced gained as an intern- it will be an invaluable experience that will create future rewards for a lifetime. David Park
Larry Keener. I was formerly Director of Regulatory Affairs for a major international food company. My preparation came on the job. You will need a sound technical education to start. There are also seminars on food laws and regulations that I have found worth the while attending.
Michele Schlitt DiPerno Do a Regulatory Affairs Internship–paid or unpaid. This is an EXCELLENT field to get into and candidates are highly sought after.
Luis Ramirez You can begin by reading the regulations on the CFIA and Health Canada websites.
Raymond Baribeau For the USA, Reading the 21 CFR 101, 110, DSHEA 1994 and related guidelines if you have not done so, would certainly be a great start. For Canada, NHP guidelines and regulations to start with and the food and drug laws regulations and guidelines.
Darren Cornish You may wish to make yourself aware of newly implemented or soon to be implemented updates to the labelling acts and regulations via the CFIA website and the Canada Gazette.
Kevin Chumney There are a number of universities that now offer Master’s degree programs in food law and regulation such as John Hopkins, Northeastern and Michigan State to name a few. Some organizations offer certificates in this area as well.
Lance Hill In Canada, CFIA and Health Canada have active consultations underway. Get involved either in person or on their web sessions; listen to the discussions. In person provides opportunity to meet and network with government and industry contacts with an interest in these areas. As already mentioned, becoming familiar with the regulations is key and their websites provide lots of opportunity. Look for events in your area that you may attend where food labelling is one of the topics on the agenda. Make a concerted effort to network with those already doing the work you are interested in. Perhaps they will know of an opportunity where you can work and learn!
Steve Armstrong The absence of solid food law training is a problem. Just ask all of the kind regulatory specialists who taught me! All of these good colleagues make excellent suggestions. At law schools, food and drug law is often offered by adjunct professors (like yours truly, teaching at Georgetown in the fall), and very few programs offer courses focused in food law. The exceptions are UCLA, Michigan State. You can also look for one or two day seminars to give you an introduction to the subject, for example, at the Food and Drug Law Institute, or a consulting firm like EAS Consulting, LLC.
Lauren Swann Knowing both FDA food labelling regulations and USDA-FSIS labelling compliance is a plus. Prime Label is an established leader in USDA labelling (which can also include AMS for voluntary grading standards, child-nutrition, organic, breed claims and raw agricultural commodity origin requirements). They have since incorporated more FDA in their annual conference
As a food scientist, do not forget about the Culinary Arts side of your experience. It will give you a much more well rounded education and approach to your passions!! Robert Saia
Susan Ulery Law School if you want to wrangle with big issues
Kim Dietz Michigan State University has a certificate program in Global Food Laws. There are several courses that pertain to food labelling and regulatory.
Stefano F. Liparoto, Ph.D. My recommendation is to de-couple regulatory compliance and reg affairs; with a BSc degree without any experience in the field, start with regulatory compliance and understand your ability to learn on the job. (Network with government affairs folks, legal, regulatory affairs and nutrition sciences). Depending on what you see and still want to do in step 2, consider a graduate degree (law, PhD or similar). You’re ability to advocate based upon WoE is significantly greater once you combine the foundational elements and the additional education that can break down the safe use of an ingredient, why and its level. This advice is my own from experience in GLP, GMP and now ‘food’ regulation. Once you have the basic framework, you adapt and succeed!
Did you find this useful? Do you have a better suggestion to provide this feedback (I know this is longer than an average blog post). Do you have a different question? All comments and feedback are welcome, comment below or email Nicole and don’t forget to share!
Related: Coming Clean…About Food Labels