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“One of the things I love is the variety of issues that can present themselves in just one day.” - Evangelia Pelonis [Interview]

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Over the past several years, consumers have actively begun giving more attention to the food and drink they put into their bodies. In order to keep up with these growing demands, food law has been forced to constantly develop and progress. In this expert interview, Evangelia Pelonis, Partner at Keller and Heckman LLP, provides an insight into her career journey into food law and discusses some of the her roles and responsibilities as a food lawyer, including how these have changed in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Evangelia, can you give us a brief summary of your professional career to date?

“I graduated from law school in 2003 and have been with Keller and Heckman LLP ever since. I had the opportunity to learn from many amazing food lawyers and rose from Associate to Counsel to Partner in that time. I am very fortunate to have found a profession and a law firm that is such a good match for me.”

What attracted you to the food industry and where did your passion for food law come from?

“I have always been interested in consumer protection matters and in law school began to find an interest in food law through a course I took and a paper I wrote on genetically modified food. I then had a Summer Associate position with Keller and Heckman that exposed me to food law in practice and was hooked!”

What does a regular day look like for you?

“One of the things I love is the variety of issues that can present themselves in just one day. A regular day can involve reviewing substantiation for claims, advising on how to change claim language, assessing class action litigation risk associated with various labeling claims, reviewing the regulatory status of ingredients in various markets, preparing a generally recognized as safe (GRAS) opinion or Notice for submission to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, evaluating potential food safety issues associated with a contaminant, advising on allergen labeling, and the list goes on!”

Do you usually work alone on a case or do you rather tend to collaborate with a wider team?

“One of the great things about working at Keller and Heckman is the collaborative environment. There are times I confer with my fellow partners to see if they have faced similar issues or to brainstorm on approaches with regulators. For regulatory filing projects, I typically work with an Associate and Scientist to draft submissions that address the legal and scientific aspects to gain clearance for the substance.”

What are, in your view, the 5 biggest challenges that food companies who are based in the USA face when it comes to food labelling and advertising?

“The biggest challenges facing food companies regarding labelling and advertising are: (1) risk of class action lawsuits; (2) ensuring that they have adequate substantiation for claims; (3) making sure that all labelling advertising materials undergo legal review including material on social media; (4) ensuring they are using ingredients with an appropriate regulatory status; and (5) working with reputable ingredient suppliers whose information can be trusted.”

Evangelia, you assist companies on matters relating to human food, animal feed, food additives and ingredients, and dietary supplements. Do you see that the companies producing animal feed face the same restrictions when it comes to food product formulation, manufacturing, labelling, and advertising as the ones producing food for human consumption?

“Yes, animal feed manufacturers face the same if not greater restrictions when compared to human food. This is largely due to the fact that animal food is heavily regulated at the state level in the United States.”

You counsel companies in all aspects of food development and marketing. Have you noticed any changes in the approach companies in the US take to food advertising and labelling because of the Corona virus crisis?

“There has definitely been an increased interest in making immunity claims as a result of the pandemic.”

You have been working as Food and Drug Attorney in the USA since 2003. If you were to change your career path now, what would that be for? Would you still choose law, or would you consider exploring a different sector altogether?

“I am very lucky that I ended up in food law when I did and I would not change my path now. There have been so many developments in food law since 2003 (e.g., the Food Safety Modernization Act) and a tremendous upswell of consumer interest in the food they eat, which has made my career all the more exciting.”

Connect with Evangelia on LinkeIn

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TAGS: Regulatory
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