FDA Proposes Rules to Enforce Standards for Imported Food

By Tavernise, Sabrina | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), July 27, 2013 | Go to article overview

FDA Proposes Rules to Enforce Standards for Imported Food


Tavernise, Sabrina, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


WASHINGTON -- More than two years after Congress passed a landmark law meant to prevent the importation of contaminated food that sickens Americans, the Food and Drug Administration proposed rules Friday that for the first time put the main onus on companies to police the food they import.

Major food importers and consumer advocates generally praised the new rules, but the advocates also said they worried that the rules may give companies too much discretion about whether to conduct on- site inspections of places where the food is grown and processed. They said such inspections must be mandated.

The law itself was grappling, in part, with problems that have grown out of an increasingly globalized food supply. About 15 percent of food that Americans eat comes from abroad, more than double what it was just 10 years ago, including nearly two-thirds of fresh fruits and vegetables. And the safety of the food supply -- foreign and domestic -- is a critical public health issue. One in every six Americans becomes ill from eating contaminated food each year, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg estimated. About 130,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die.

The FDA has tried to keep tabs on imports, but, in reality, only manages to inspect 1 percent to 2 percent of all imports at U.S. ports and borders.

The new rules would subject imported foods to the same safety standards as food produced domestically and require companies importing the food to make sure it meets those standards. U.S. companies would have to prove that their foreign suppliers had controls in place with audits of the foreign facilities, food tests and reviews of records, among other methods. The companies would also have to keep records on foreign suppliers. They would be allowed to hire outside auditors to make on-site inspections -- if such inspections are ultimately required. The auditors would be vetted in a process approved by the FDA.

Consumer advocates said the test will be whether importers are required to conduct such on-site audits, or whether that is left to the companies' discretion -- as one option proposed in the draft rules would allow. …

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