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November 14, 2015

United States

Washington, DC—FDA Requires USA Importers to Certify

the Safety of Food Imports


On November 13, 205, five years after Congress passed a landmark law meant to prevent the importation of contaminated food, the USA Food and Drug Administration made final new rules that for the first time put the main responsibility on USA companies for policing the food they import.


The new rules require importers to show that the food they bring into the United States meets American safety standards by hiring third-party auditors to check the safety of the food at foreign facilities!  “This the first time food importers have fallen directly under FDA regulation,” said Michael R. Taylor, the agency’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine.


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, according to the FDA.  About 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die.


The rules were broadly praised by consumer advocates and the industry as a substantial advance in food safety.  The American food supply is increasingly globalized.  In 2013, the Department of Agriculture estimated that imported food accounted for 19 percent of the American food supply, including 52 percent of the fresh fruits and 22 percent of the fresh vegetables.  Given these changes, the old food-safety system was outdated, officials said.  The FDA tries to keep tabs on imports, but it inspects only 1 to 2 percent of imports at American ports and borders.


“These rules represent a lot of compromises,” said David Plunkett, a senior staff lawyer at the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s food safety program.  “But imported food will at least now have someone who is responsible for assuring its safety.  The bottom line is the food supply will be safer.”


FDA cannot regulate what happens on foreign farms, but it can require that food importers verify that their foreign suppliers are making and growing food that meets American safety standards.  The rules establish a system of third-party auditors, which an importer would hire to inspect a supplier’s facility, for example, or sample or test food made there.


“Under the new rules, importers will have the obligation to verify they are meeting USA standards,” Taylor said.  “This is a fundamental paradigm shift from the FDA detecting and responding to problems with imported foods to industry being responsible for preventing them.”


Source: The New York Times.  New Rules Make Companies Do More to Police Imported Food.  Sabrina Tavernise.  November 13, 2015.

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