Questions and answers on the new Master of Science in Regulatory Affairs of Food and Food Industries degree program recently launched by Northeastern University’s College of Professional Studies
Why is there a need for graduate education in regulatory affairs of the food industry?
We first got the idea for this program as we were thinking about the success and strength of our Master of Science in Regulatory Affairs for Drugs, Biologics, and Medical Devices degree program. We were wondering about the next regulatory arena that would not only impact a specific industry, but our culture and society as well. A second, highly-regulated industry – food—seemed to be a natural answer. The 2010 Food Safety Modernization Act dramatically changed the laws within the food industry and has impacted food labeling, food safety, and food distribution. As the industry changes, regulations become more necessary and complex, leading to an increased need for more employees with a high level of knowledge and the ability to interpret these regulations.
What is different today in the food industry than in years past?
According to the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, today U.S. consumers spend 25 cents of every dollar on products regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration – of this amount, approximately 75% is spent on foods. This huge, multi-billion dollar industry is being impacted by increased oversight, rapidly evolving regulations, and calls for more transparency by regulators and consumers alike. Food safety, and the regulations designed to ensure it, comprises a significant public health issue; we are all affected by it.
Similar to most industries, the food market is becoming increasingly globalized. Not only is food trade thoroughly international, so are food regulations. For example, the oranges we eat in the U.S. originate from areas such as South America or Australia. As a perishable fruit, their importation rests on the complex safety and importation negotiations by producers, suppliers, and purchasers. This is also true of many of the other foods we eat.
There has also been a trend toward increasing media and consumer scrutiny of food industrial processes and practices. For instance, the high-profile concerns involving “pink slime” ground beef in U.S. schools and the substitution of horsemeat in U.K. supermarkets. These issues bring international attention to the food industry, even in countries where controversies are not common. We now have highly educated and demanding consumers who expect the highest standards to be upheld. They hold food inspectors and regulators accountable for the continued safety and quality of their food. As a result, food regulations are more complex, more thorough, and more far-reaching. In order for the regulatory systems to work effectively, there needs to be a larger pool of highly trained regulatory experts working in industry and regulatory agencies.
Who is this master’s degree program designed for?
Many food regulatory industry professionals begin their careers in positions tailored to food science, chemistry, or marketing. They come to discover the pitfalls of food regulatory affairs on the job. Rather than learning the tools to address these obstacles over years or decades on the job, our program provides a fast-track for industry professionals. Our graduates will learn many skills which are immediately applicable and marketable in different regulatory settings.
In our discussions with major players in the industry such as The Food and Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, we’ve found that it is much more cost-effective for a company to hire someone who has this regulatory knowledge already in hand, rather than train someone along the way. Companies want professionals who can hit the ground running because regulatory proficiency is critical for nearly all stages of food product approval throughout the product’s lifecycle. Companies need regulators who can guide a product through each step, from the product’s inception, through trials and testing, food labeling and marketing, and then finally to the dinner plates of the consumer.
The College performed an analysis of job postings within the food industry. What did it tell us?
According to our market research, job postings for food regulatory, quality assurance and food safety positions has risen in the past two years. Additionally, trend data indicate that in the past five years the tally of open jobs for food regulatory affairs professionals has doubled. Industry trends and interviews suggest that many companies cannot hire individuals to fill these jobs fast enough. This conclusion has been seconded by members of the Food and Drug Law Institute, with whom we are collaborating in developing our curriculum. Finally, most high-level positions in the food regulatory industry are looking for individuals with a master’s degree. While it is not an absolute requirement, we’ve seen it stated as a preference time and again.
What’s the benefit of providing this degree program as an online degree?
We’ve found that jobs within the food industry are centered in regions of the U.S. that have significant agricultural economies such as the Midwest, South, and West – states such as California, Ohio, Illinois, and Texas. Because this degree is offered 100% online, individuals can work at their day-jobs while taking classes and doing their coursework when it’s convenient for them, regardless of their geographic location.
What can graduates take with them after they earn their degree?
Many master’s degree programs in the food industry are heavily concentrated in food law or food science, whereas our Master of Science in Regulatory Affairs of Food and Food Industries program is specifically geared towards food regulations and regulatory strategy. Our degree is unique in that it focuses on the regulatory policy from a business perspective, training graduates to make informed regulatory decisions to guide their employer’s products from inception to marketing.
Our program also features an international component in the curriculum. In order to be successful in a global market, regulators not only need to be aware of FDA requirements, but also those policies and procedures governing other countries. As U.S. companies work to break into international markets, the need for well-versed regulatory professionals constantly increases; therefore we aim to provide graduates with an introduction to various global regulatory systems in preparation for their roles in the international food regulation industry.
For more information, please visit the degree homepage.
View the program’s official announcement: Northeastern’s College of Professional Studies Announces New Degree in Critical Industry
Read Vermont and Hawaii Wade into GMO debate on the Aspire blog