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Food Additives Permitted for Direct Addition to Food for Human Consumption; Neotame

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Food and Drug Administration, HHS.


Final rule; response to objections and denial of requests for a hearing.


The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responding to objections and is denying requests that it has received for a hearing on the final rule that amended the food additive regulations authorizing the use of neotame as a nonnutritive sweetener in food. After reviewing the objections to the final rule and the requests for a hearing, the agency has concluded that the objections do not raise issues of material fact that justify a hearing or otherwise provide a basis for revoking the amendment to the regulation.

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Andrew J. Zajac, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (HFS-265), Food and Drug Administration, 5100 Paint Branch Pkwy., College Park, MD 20740-3835, 301-436-1267.

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I. Introduction

FDA published notices in the Federal Register on February 10, 1998 (63 FR 6762), and February 8, 1999 (64 FR 6100), announcing the filing of food additive petitions, FAP 8A4580 and FAP 9A4643, respectively, by Monsanto Co. to amend the food additive regulations in Part 172 Food Additives Permitted for Direct Addition to Food for Human Consumption (21 CFR part 172) to provide for the safe use of neotame as a nonnutritive sweetener for tabletop use (FAP 8A4580) and for general-purpose use in food (FAP 9A4643) where standards of identity do not preclude such use. The rights to these petitions were subsequently sold to the NutraSweet Co. In the Federal Register of July 9, 2002 (67 FR 45300), FDA issued a final rule permitting the safe use of neotame as a sweetening agent and flavor enhancer in foods generally, except in meat and poultry. The preamble to the final rule advised that objections to the final rule and requests for a hearing were due within 30 days of the publication date (i.e., by August 8, 2002).

II. Objections and Requests for a Hearing

Section 409(f) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (the act) (21 U.S.C. 348(f)) provides that, within 30 days after publication of an order relating to a food additive regulation, any person adversely affected by such order may file objections, specifying with particularity the provisions of the order “deemed objectionable, stating reasonable grounds therefore, and requesting a public hearing based upon such objections.” FDA may deny a hearing request if the objections to the regulation do not raise genuine and substantial issues of fact that can be resolved at a hearing.

Under 21 CFR 171.110 of the food additive regulations, objections and requests for a hearing are governed by part 12 (21 CFR part 12) of FDA's regulations. Under § 12.22(a), each objection must meet the following conditions: (1) Must be submitted on or before the 30th day after the date of publication of the final rule; (2) must be separately numbered; (3) must specify with particularity the provision of the regulation or proposed order objected to; (4) must specifically state the Start Printed Page 21620provision of the regulation or proposed order on which a hearing is requested; failure to request a hearing on an objection constitutes a waiver of the right to a hearing on that objection; and (5) must include a detailed description and analysis of the factual information to be presented in support of the objection if a hearing is requested; failure to include a description and analysis for an objection constitutes a waiver of the right to a hearing on that objection.

Following publication of the neotame final rule, FDA received three submissions, within the 30-day objection period, objecting to the agency's safety evaluation of neotame as a general-purpose sweetener. Two of the submissions are essentially identical in content and assert that all of the studies that were discussed in the neotame final rule are meaningless because they are based on aspartame, which they claim has never been proven to be safe for use in food. Both of these submissions requested a hearing. The third submission questions the validity of the agency's exposure estimate for neotame and its metabolites. This same submission also asks a number of questions regarding the clinical studies that were conducted on human tolerance to neotame. The submission requested a hearing on both of these issues.

III. Standards for Granting a Hearing

Specific criteria for deciding whether to grant or deny a request for a hearing are set out in § 12.24(b). Under that regulation, a hearing will be granted if the material submitted by the requester shows, among other things, the following: (1) There is a genuine and substantial factual issue for resolution at a hearing; a hearing will not be granted on issues of policy or law; (2) the factual issue can be resolved by available and specifically identified reliable evidence; a hearing will not be granted on the basis of mere allegations or denials or general descriptions of positions and contentions; (3) the data and information submitted, if established at a hearing, would be adequate to justify resolution of the factual issue in the way sought by the requestor; a hearing will be denied if the data and information submitted are insufficient to justify the factual determination urged, even if accurate; and (4) resolution of the factual issue in the way sought by the person is adequate to justify the action requested; a hearing will not be granted on factual issues that are not determinative with respect to the action requested (e.g., if the action would be the same even if the factual issue were resolved in the way sought).

A party seeking a hearing is required to meet a “threshold burden of tendering evidence suggesting the need for a hearing” (Costle v. Pacific Legal Foundation, 445 U.S. 198, 214-215 (1980), reh. denied, 446 U.S. 947 (1980), citing Weinberger v. Hynson, Westcott & Dunning, Inc., 412 U.S. 609, 620-621 (1973)). An allegation that a hearing is necessary to “sharpen the issues” or to “fully develop the facts” does not meet this test (Georgia Pacific Corp. v. EPA, 671 F.2d 1235, 1241 (9th Cir. 1982)). If a hearing request fails to identify any factual evidence that would be the subject of a hearing, there is no point in holding one. In judicial proceedings, a court is authorized to issue summary judgment without an evidentiary hearing whenever it finds that there are no genuine issues of material fact in dispute and a party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law (see Rule 56, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure). The same principle applies in administrative proceedings (see § 12.28).

A hearing request must not only contain evidence, but that evidence should raise a material issue of fact concerning which a meaningful hearing might be held (Pineapple Growers Ass'n v. FDA, 673 F.2d 1083, 1085 (9th Cir. 1982)). Where the issues raised in the objection are, even if true, legally insufficient to alter the decision, the agency need not grant a hearing (see Dyestuffs and Chemicals, Inc. v. Flemming, 271 F.2d 281 (8th Cir. 1959), cert. denied, 362 U.S. 911 (1960)). FDA need not grant a hearing in each case where an objector submits additional information or posits a novel interpretation of existing information (see United States v. Consolidated Mines & Smelting Co., 455 F.2d 432 (9th Cir. 1971)). In other words, a hearing is justified only if the objections are made in good faith and if they “draw in question in a material way the underpinnings of the regulation at issue” (Pactra Industries v. CPSC, 555 F.2d 677 (9th Cir. 1977)). Finally, courts have uniformly recognized that a hearing need not be held to resolve questions of law or policy (see Citizens for Allegan County, Inc. v. FPC, 414 F.2d 1125 (D.C. Cir. 1969); Sun Oil Co. v. FPC, 256 F.2d 233, 240 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 358 U.S. 872 (1958)).

Even if the objections raise material issues of fact, FDA need not grant a hearing if those same issues were adequately raised and considered in an earlier proceeding. Once an issue has been so raised and considered, a party is estopped from raising that same issue in a later proceeding without new evidence. The various judicial doctrines dealing with finality can be validly applied to the administrative process. In explaining why these principles “self-evidently” ought to apply to an agency proceeding, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit wrote:

The underlying concept is as simple as this: Justice requires that a party have a fair chance to present his position. But overall interests of administration do not require or generally contemplate that he will be given more than a fair opportunity.

Retail Clerks Union, Local 1401 v. NLRB, 463 F.2d 316, 322 (D.C. Cir. 1972). (See Costle v. Pacific Legal Foundation, supra at 215-220. See also Pacific Seafarers, Inc. v. Pacific Far East Line, Inc., 404 F.2d 804 (D.C. Cir. 1968), cert. denied, 393 U.S. 1093 (1969).)

In summary, a hearing request must present sufficient credible evidence to raise a material issue of fact and the evidence must be adequate to resolve the issue as requested and to justify the action requested.

IV. Analysis of Objections and Response to Hearing Requests

FDA addresses each of the three objections in the following paragraphs, as well as the evidence and information filed in support of each, comparing each objection and the information submitted in support of it to the standards for granting a hearing in § 12.24.

Two submissions objected to the final rule asserting that all of the safety studies on neotame are meaningless because they are based on aspartame. Both submissions requested hearings on this point. As stated in the neotame final rule, to support the safety of neotame, the petitioner submitted, within the two petitions, a combined total of 113 preclinical, clinical, and special studies, plus an additional 32 exploratory and screening studies in a food master file on the safety of neotame and its metabolites, not aspartame. The objectors did not specifically address any of these studies. Further, the assertion that the safety evaluation of neotame is based on aspartame is baseless and completely false. FDA is denying the requests for a hearing on this point because there is no genuine and substantial issue of fact for resolution at a hearing, and a hearing will not be granted on the basis of mere allegations or denials or general descriptions of positions and contentions (§ 12.24(b)(1) and (b)(2)).

The third objection questioned the agency's exposure estimate for neotame and the clinical studies that were conducted and requested a hearing on these issues. However, the submission Start Printed Page 21621provided no information that would support a reevaluation of the agency's exposure estimate or the clinical studies that were conducted. Therefore, this submission provides no basis for FDA to reconsider its decision to issue the final rule on neotame. Moreover, this submission provides no basis for granting a hearing because a hearing request must include specifically identified reliable evidence that can lead to resolution of a factual issue in dispute. A hearing will not be granted on the basis of mere allegations or denials or general descriptions of positions and contentions (§ 12.24(b)(2)). Therefore, FDA is denying the hearing requested by this submission.

V. Summary and Conclusions

Section 409 of the act requires that a food additive be shown to be safe prior to marketing. Under 21 CFR 170.3(i), a food additive is “safe” if there is a reasonable certainty in the minds of competent scientists that the substance is not harmful under the intended conditions of use. In the final rule approving neotame, FDA concluded that the data presented by the petitioner to establish safety of the additive demonstrate that neotame is safe for its intended use as a general-purpose sweetener and flavor enhancer in foods. The final rule did not authorize the use of neotame in meat and poultry.

The petitioner has the burden to demonstrate the safety of the additive in order to gain FDA approval. Once FDA makes a finding of safety, the burden shifts to an objector, who must come forward with evidence that calls into question FDA's conclusion (American Cyanamid Co. v. FDA, 606 F2d. 1307, 1314-1315 (DC Cir. 1979)).

None of the three objections received contained evidence to support a genuine and substantial issue of fact. Nor has any objector established that the agency overlooked significant information in reaching its conclusion. Therefore, the agency has determined that the objections that requested a hearing do not raise any substantial issue of fact that would justify an evidentiary hearing (§ 12.24(b)). Accordingly, FDA is not making any changes in response to the objections and is denying the requests for a hearing.

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Dated: April 19, 2005.

Jeffrey Shuren,

Assistant Commissioner for Policy.

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[FR Doc. 05-8352 Filed 4-26-05; 8:45 am]