Importers now on the hook for food safety, per FDA

Paula Duffy's picture

Domestic food importers must vouch for the safety of food brought into the U.S. after the FDA proposed rules on the subject.

Americans are used to reading bulletins from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about contaminated food.

Today, the FDA announced rules that could lead to prevention rather than recall mandates.

How often does anyone consider the fact that commercial importers have no responsibility to vouch for what they buy and then distribute to all of us to eat?

Probably not very much, but now that we know the FDA proposals are ground breaking, one has to ask why it hasn't happened prior to this point in time.

The answer is that until 2010 legislation was passed in Congress, the federal agency was not required to go this far.

Tee bill was signed into law in January 2011 by President Obama, giving the FDA 18 months to create and publish new regulations.

The federal agency is late by more than one year. In the meantime it was business as usual.

The U.S. imports 80% of its seafood products, 50% of its fresh fruit and 20% of its fresh vegetables and the FDA inspects, according to USA Today, only 2% of imports.

The New York Times noted that despite the issues presented, the new regulations do not include seafood.

The FDA is very proud of itself:

“This is a huge paradigm shift,” Michael R. Taylor, the Food and Drug Administration’s top food-safety official, said in an interview. “It’s a very big step that we’re taking in building the food-safety system of the future. . . . We think it’s important for public health, but we also think it’s important for public confidence."

The Washington Post reports that the U.S. imports come from about 150 different countries.

The FDA would have to grow substantially to attempt inspections in that many countries. The current climate might not be the most friendly to seek funding from Congress to bulk up the agencies resources. Nonetheless, in his 2014 budget request the president asked for hundreds of millions of dollars to help get the agency better equipped.

Importers now get squeezed to be responsible for food safety. They sit squarely between the exporting countries, all 150 of them, and the U.S. government.

It is now up to them to review their business arrangements with food growers around the world and put the onus on them to make representations about the product they sell to U.S. companies.

A look at the recent contaminated food warnings that resulted in recalls, reveals that foreign food producers dominate the list of those responsible.

Image: Wikimedia Commons