Gottlieb resigns from FDA, dairy projects in the balance

By Beth Newhart

- Last updated on GMT

Gottlieb's resignation comes just two months after he denied rumors he planned to leave the FDA. Pic: WikimediaCommons
Gottlieb's resignation comes just two months after he denied rumors he planned to leave the FDA. Pic: WikimediaCommons

Related tags fda commissioner Fda Government plant-based milk Non-Dairy

US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb signed a resignation letter Tuesday with intent to leave the role in one month. He has served as Commissioner for nearly two years and been pivotal in the recent plant ‘milk’ vs. dairy milk labeling debate.

Gottlieb joined the Trump Administration first as an advisor to the transition team in 2016 before being nominated as FDA Commissioner in March 2017. He has a background as a physician, investor and professor, and he signed his FDA resignation letter to US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar on March 5.

Azar said in a statement posted to Twitter, “Scott’s leadership inspired historic results from the FDA team, which delivered record approvals of both innovative treatments and affordable generic drugs, while advancing important policies to confront opioid addiction, tobacco and youth e-cigarette, chronic disease and more.”

Gottlieb also touted his achievements in combating tobacco use, modernizing medical technology and tracking foodborne illness outbreaks in his resignation letter. He did not give a reason for the announcement but noted, “This has been a wonderful journey and parting is very hard.”

However, in January he commented via Twitter on rumors that he may leave the FDA by saying, “I want to be very clear - I’m not leaving. We’ve got a lot ​[of] important policy we’ll advance this year. I look forward to sharing my 2019 strategic roadmap soon.”

An unclear future

After the news broke President Donald Trump posted two tweets praising Gottlieb’s tenure as Commissioner: “Scott Gottlieb, who has done an absolutely terrific job as Commissioner of the FDA, plans to leave government service sometime next month.”

“Scott has helped us to lower drug prices, get a record number of generic drugs approved and onto the market, and so many other things. He and his talents will be greatly missed.”

Last summer Gottlieb became vocal about the FDA’s need for updating and modernizing​ the standards of identity on plant-based dairy alternative products. It furthered an existing debate between vegan and dairy organizations about what products can legally be referred to with dairy terms.

The FDA spent several months collecting public comment on the issue and was most recently in the process of reviewing the comments​. This sparked disagreements between mainstream dairy companies like Chobani and Danone North America​. It is unclear how the standards of identity review process will continue past Gottlieb’s departure.

US dairy reacts

The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) told DairyReporter, “We greatly appreciate Commissioner Scott Gottlieb's strong interest in food safety and in working to launch and advance the Agency’s Multi-Year Nutrition Innovation Strategy that encourages industry innovation to improve the nutrition and healthfulness of food, including standards modernization. International Dairy Foods Association looks forward to FDA continuing its strong leadership and industry collaboration and food related issues in the future under new leadership.”

Alan Bjerga, senior VP of communications at the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), also praised Gottlieb’s support of the dairy industry and told DairyReporter, “He said three very important words last summer: ‘almonds don’t lactate,’ which has given consumers their best opportunity for transparency and clarity in dairy labeling that they have had in 40 years.

“That was a door that was opened by Commissioner Gottlieb and we appreciate that we’ve had a chance to work through that open door. We just have to keep working because issues last beyond any one commissioner of the FDA. These are struggles that can take years, and in the case of fake milk it’s taken decades.”

Dairy Management Inc., the Dairy Business Association and the Plant Based Foods Association all declined to comment to DairyReporter. The US Dairy Export Council did not return request for comment.

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