New F.D.A. proposals focus on imported foods and third-party auditors
by Keith Nunes
WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration introduced two proposed rules governing imported foods on July 26. The proposals would make importers accountable for verifying their foreign suppliers are working under prevention-oriented food safety practices. The agency also proposed to strengthen the quality and transparency of foreign food safety audits that many food companies and importers currently rely to help manage the safety of their global food supply chains.
Both proposals are a part of F.D.A.’s effort to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act (F.S.M.A.).
Under the proposed regulations for Foreign Supplier Verification Programs (F.S.V.P.), U.S. importers would, for the first time, have a clearly defined responsibility to verify their suppliers produce food to meet U.S. food safety requirements. In general, importers would be required to have a plan for imported food, including identifying hazards associated with each food that are reasonably likely to occur. Importers would be required to conduct activities that provide adequate assurances that these identified hazards are being adequately controlled.
“F.S.M.A. provides the F.D.A. with a modern tool kit that shifts the paradigm for imports, as well as domestic foods, from a strategy of reaction to one of systematic prevention,” said Michael R. Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine. “Rather than relying primarily on F.D.A. 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 the F.D.A., that the food they import is safe.”
Under the second proposed rule, the F.D.A. would recognize accreditation bodies based on certain criteria such as competency and impartiality. The accreditation bodies, which may be foreign government agencies or private companies, would in turn accredit third-party auditors to audit and issue certifications for foreign food facilities and food, under certain circumstances.
Importers will not generally be required to obtain certifications, but certifications may be used by the F.D.A. to determine whether to admit certain imported food that poses a safety risk into the United States, the agency said.
The two proposed rules received the approval of the Grocery Manufacturers Association.
“F.S.M.A. ensures that prevention is the cornerstone of our nation’s food safety strategy and today’s proposed rules embody that same principle,” the G.M.A. said. “These proposed rules will place new and enhanced requirements on foreign suppliers and the accreditation of third-party auditors that will help further protect the safety of food imported into the U.S.
“This focus on prevention and the enhanced requirements on foreign suppliers and third-party auditors were also key elements in G.M.A.’s 2007 proposal to help improve the safety of imported foods - A Commitment to Consumers: The Four Pillars of Food Safety. F.S.M.A. and its implementation effort can serve as a role model for what can be achieved when the private and public sectors work together to achieve a common goal.”
The proposed rules are currently open for comment until Sept. 16, 2013, but the F.D.A. said it intends to grant a 60-day final extension of the comment period to allow commenters an opportunity to consider the inter-relationships between proposals made by the agency this past January.