Science Policy For All

Because science policy affects everyone.

Science Policy Around the Web – May 8, 2015

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By: Cameron J. Schweitzer, Ph.D.

Consumer Product Regulations

Nut So Fast, Kind Bars: FDA Smacks Snacks On Health Claims

In a letter dated March 17, the FDA stated that the snack food company Kind violated labeling rules by putting the word “healthy” on the packaging of some of its bars. The rules in question are the requirements the FDA places on foods that may be deemed healthy. For instance, “healthy” must contain 1 gram or less of saturated fat, which was not the case for some of the bars Kind produces.

The main problem seems to stem from the nuts used in the bar (in this case almonds). Almonds are considered high fat nuts and are the source of a majority of the saturated fats found in the Kind bars. Now many experts are speaking up and defending Kind and claiming that research has confirmed the health benefits of almonds.

For instance, Dr. David Katz wrote in his blog on the Huffington Post that “the failure of one-size-fits-all-regulation to, in fact, fit all; and the ineluctable law of unintended consequences. “ He goes on to claim that the same standard threshold for saturated fat would preclude calling salmon, hummus, and avocado “healthy.” A second nutrition expert, Walter Willet, has also chimed in saying “They’re [almonds] probably one of the healthiest choices you can make in a diet.” Willet goes on to say that the FDA’s letter is based on outdated guidelines when it comes to nuts. It’s likely the agency needs to update its guidelines to be in-line with research pertaining to almonds and nuts in general.

The company responded saying they will be changing the labels for the four bars mentioned in the letter as well as reviewing its entire line to ensure that it complies with FDA regulations. Of note, the word “healthy” has been on the label since 2004, but has only recently experienced a growth in sales. (Poncie Rutsch, NPR)

Patenting and Biotechnology

Patent debate heats up over CRISPR/Cas9 technology

The CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing technology has tremendous potential for human health and on April 15, 2014, a patent to edit eukaryotic genomes was awarded to Feng Zhang of the Broad Institute and MIT. However, Jennifer Doudna of the University of California, Berkley and Emmanuelle Charpentier at the Helmholtz Center for Infection Research in Germany, who first published on this system, filed a similar patent seven months earlier than Zhang. Zhang’s was accepted earlier because he filed for a fast-track patent, which was awarded just a mere six months after submission.

Now that Zhang’s patent is official there are three possible scenarios for the Doudna/Charpentier submission. First, the patent may not be granted without significant revisions that could limit the current scope of the application. Second, the patent that is still under review may be granted and consequently invalidate some of Zhang’s prior claims and diminish his current advantage. The last option includes a rejection of the Doudna/Charpentier application and likely a lengthy patent dispute in court. Realistically, it could be upwards of 3-5 years before this quarrel is fully resolved.

Despite the patent free-for-all several companies have been built entirely around the idea of using this technology to improve human health. Feng Zhang co-founded his own company called Editas Medicine, while Doudna and colleagues created Caribou Biosciences. Additionally, other startups are hoping to harness this tool by moving forward regardless of the outcome. Nessan Bermingham, CEO of Intelia Therapeutics sums it up by saying “We all need to be pragmatic and understand that our priority here is patients, we’re not here to fight about IP.” (Jenny Rood, The Scientist)

Communication Policy

UK scientists outraged by policy change that may prevent contact with the media

In the middle of March, the United Kingdom’s Parliament amended the Civil Service Code to prevent all civil servants from speaking with the media without ministerial authorization. However, there is now confusion as to whom this applies to and many within the government offices are asking for clarification. It is also unclear if this rule change will alter business as usual. Although Fiona Fox, the chief executive of the Science Media Centre claims that several scientists have already declined press interviews as a result of the rule change.

In a letter to the cabinet secretary, Francis Maude, science organizations expressed deep concerns over the change. Many feel it will leave the public far less informed than before and could have a negative impact on the public understanding of science. In response, the cabinet office has stated that individual departments could apply for exemption to get around the new amendment. (Ian Sample, The Guardian)

Have an interesting science policy link?  Share it in the comments!

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

May 8, 2015 at 4:06 pm

Posted in Linkposts

Tagged with , , ,

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