Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Impact of the Food Safety Modernization Act on Importers

To Inspect, or not to inspect… that is the question. Earlier this year, President Obama signed into law the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA or the Act), with the goal of shifting the focus of the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) from to responding to food contamination problems to preventing them. Yet, this week, the president’s budget proposal includes cuts to nearly all food inspection programs, including overseas inspections of foreign food manufacturers that supply U.S. importers of food. Does anyone else see the contradiction here? FSMA, which amends the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, may have a huge impact on importers of food products. Overall, the Act contains five major elements: (1) a mandate to the FDA to establish prevention-based controls for the food industry; (2) inspections and compliance, including specifications on how the FDA should inspect food producers; (3) imported food safety, including requirement that food importers must verify that their foreign food suppliers possess sufficient preventive controls to ensure safety; (4) mandatory recall authority to the FDA for all food products and; (5) partnership among federal, state, local and foreign agencies to work together to enhance food safety. Of significance to food importers is the third element above—imported food safety—and how the requirements under that section will increase the burden, both in time and money on importers of food products. Under FSMA, food importers must have internal controls that ensure that the food they are importing into the United States is safe. One of the largest potential burdens on importers under this new requirement is the Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP). Under the FSVP, importers need to verify that their foreign suppliers also have adequate public health protection controls in place that meet the U.S. standards under the new law. The FDA describes such verification as “risk-based” that should focus on validating that imported food was not contaminated or adulterated in any way and that the imported food was produced in compliance with proper FDA controls. However, left open for interpretation is what constitutes “risk.” Is it country of origin based? Is it food product based? Another open issue is what an importer needs to do if it finds that the supplier does not have adequate controls. Is it permitted to import food from that supplier while the supplier improves its controls and procedures? Or, must the importer stop production at that plant? Does it depend on what the problem was? What happens if the importer decides to continue to import while the foreign manufacturer improves its procedures and something is contaminated—is the importer liable too? Finally, the FDA has some additional duties under FSMA too. It now has the power to conduct foreign inspections and can deny an entry of a shipment of imported food if the manufacturer does not permit FDA inspection. This brings us back to the beginning. The whole purpose of the law is to protect the public, which does involve cooperation between importers and the FDA, and between importers and their foreign suppliers. However, given that the Obama administration has just proposed to cut the FDA budget for foreign supplier inspections, it is likely that the FDA is going to struggle to do its part under the Act, thus placing even more burden on the food importer.

1 comment:

texas food handler certification said...

I believe this is a result of an increasing number of food poising cases and reports on possible contamination of foods available for consumers. Anyway, the cut on FDA budget wouldn’t be approved if there’s no study made that even if the body receives less budget, they could still do their job. But if the cut has no enough basis, then it wouldn’t be possible to implement quality check on all aspects of safeguarding food.