Q&A: Brian P. Sylvester

Nav­i­gat­ing the food pro­duc­tion process from farm to ta­ble ad­dresses fu­ture needs.

Successful Farming - - CONTENTS - By Lau­rie Be­dord, Ex­ec­u­tive Ed­i­tor, Ag Tech­nol­ogy

Early on in his le­gal ca­reer, Brian P. Sylvester landed at USDA, where he learned first­hand how the U.S. govern­ment works to pro­mote in­no­va­tion in agri­cul­ture. Seiz­ing that op­por­tu­nity paved the way for his cur­rent sci­ence-based food law prac­tice, where he works with some of the world’s lead­ing food and agri­cul­ture com­pa­nies.

“I rep­re­sent a broad ar­ray of start-ups, lead­ing global brands, and trade as­so­ci­a­tions ad­vis­ing them on high-stakes mat­ters re­lated to reg­u­la­tion by the USDA, the U.S. Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion (FDA) and the U.S. Fed­eral Trade Com­mis­sion (FTC),” says Sylvester, who is the spe­cial coun­sel at Wi­ley Rein LLP in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

Sylvester shares his in­sight on the evolv­ing food in­dus­try and how the com­pa­nies he rep­re­sents are work­ing to meet con­sumer de­mands.

SF: How do you help com­pa­nies nav­i­gate ev­ery stage of the food pro­duc­tion process?

BS: Five ex­am­ples of my day-to-day prac­tice, which fo­cuses on food and agri­cul­tural biotech­nol­ogy law, in­clude the fol­low­ing.

• Help­ing com­pa­nies ob­tain

ap­provals for new, ge­net­i­cally en­gi­neered plant va­ri­eties from USDA and FDA.

• Ad­vis­ing meat and poul­try

pro­duc­ers and mar­keters on com­pli­ance and en­force­ment is­sues aris­ing un­der the Fed­eral Meat In­spec­tion Act and the Poul­try Prod­ucts In­spec­tion Act. • Help­ing grow­ers and food pro­ces­sors es­tab­lish com­pli­ance with USDA’s Na­tional Or­ganic Pro­gram.

• Pro­vid­ing strate­gic leg­isla­tive and pol­icy

ad­vice to trade as­so­ci­a­tions and cor­po­ra­tions con­cern­ing FDA- and USDA-reg­u­lated prod­ucts.

• Coun­sel­ing food and bev­er­age com­pa­nies through re­calls and mar­ket with­drawals to stem busi­ness dis­rup­tion, cost, and dam­age to brands.

SF: How have the law, sci­ence, and agri­cul­ture in­creas­ingly in­ter­sected over the past five years?

BS: The hottest topic in food law is in­no­va­tive foods. Agri­cul­ture and sci­ence have con­verged to cre­ate sus­tain­able and cre­ative so­lu­tions to food pro­duc­tion. For ex­am­ple, in the area of plant biotech­nol­ogy, de­vel­op­ers are hard at work em­ploy­ing gene-edit­ing tech­niques like CRISPR.

At start-ups around the world, ad­vances in cel­lu­lar agri­cul­ture are fo­ment­ing the scale-up of cell-based meats, poul­try, and seafood, which could be com­ing to a din­ner plate near you in the next three to four years. In­vest­ments in cell-based meat start-ups by meat in­dus­try lead­ers Tyson Foods and Cargill in­di­cate that this in­dus­try is seek­ing to ex­pand its pro­tein of­fer­ings in a way that com­ple­ments con­ven­tional an­i­mal agri­cul­ture. We also have plant-based meats, with “bloody” plant burg­ers mak­ing head­lines.

SF: What is driv­ing this in­ter­sec­tion?

BS: Con­sumer tastes and ex­pec­ta­tions are driv­ing these ground­break­ing in­no­va­tions. With a global pop­u­la­tion fore­cast to hit nearly 10 bil­lion by 2050 and con­sumers in­creas­ingly seek­ing out eth­i­cally raised, clean-la­bel foods, in­dus­try is as in­cen­tivized as it has ever been to push the bound­aries of in­no­va­tion to pro­duce safe and whole­some foods.

SF: As we look to fu­ture food pro­duc­tion, what chal­lenges do you see on the hori­zon at the farm level? At the con­sumer level? How do we over­come those chal­lenges?

BS: The bal­loon­ing hu­man pop­u­la­tion com­bined with evolv­ing con­sumer palates will re­quire agri­cul­ture to de­velop even more ef­fi­cient, sus­tain­able meth­ods of pro­duc­ing high-qual­ity foods. The chal­lenge will be for farm­ers to be­come open to such change and to de­velop strate­gies and part­ner­ships to reap the ben­e­fits from con­tin­ued in­no­va­tions in agri­cul­ture.

At the con­sumer level, both the U.S. govern­ment and in­dus­try stake­hold­ers will need to ed­u­cate Amer­i­cans on the ben­e­fits of new, in­no­va­tive food of­fer­ings rang­ing from bio­engi­neered foods to plant-based and cell-based meats.

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