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FDA seeks new process to check imports

Food destined for the U.S. would be inspected abroad and importers would be held more accountable for ensuring its safety, under new rules proposed by the Food and Drug Administration.

The US government is seeking to outsource work to companies that already have food-sourcing operations overseas. Under the rules proposed in late July, food importers would need to ensure that their foreign suppliers comply with FDA safety rules or that local regulations meet U.S. requirements. The measures also outline accreditation procedures for third-party auditors who would inspect food suppliers.

The FDA portrays the changes as a more effective method of targeting the sources of contaminated foods rather than merely responding after people get sick.

“We will continue to check food at our borders,” Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, said in a statement on the agency’s website.

“However, rather than relying almost entirely on FDA’s investigators at the ports to detect and respond to food safety problems, importers would – for the first time – be held accountable for verifying, in a manner transparent to FDA, that the food they import is safe.”

At the same time, Americans continue to perceive domestically sourced foods as safer than imports, says Marianne Rowden, president and chief executive of the American Association of Exporters & Importers, a trade group that counts several large importers such as Target and Mondelez International as members. (That perception gap remains, Rowden notes, even after several illness outbreaks tied to U.S.-grown produce.)

What’s less clear, according to Rowden, is how smaller players without the infrastructure and supply-chain expertise of major food importers will comply with the law. She predicts “critiques around the edges of some technical aspects” but no major industry backlash against the regulations.

“The food companies are very conscious about their brands,” she says. “We look at this as brand protection, rather than just new regulation.”

To read the full article by Justin Bachman, click here.

To find out more about the Food Safety Modernisation Act (FSMA) and how it affects US importers, click here.