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North American food safety authorities target substandard imports

By Mark Astley , 24-Apr-2012

US and Canadian food safety authorities have laid out plans to ensure the quality and safety of imported foods – publishing mirror-image campaigns within days of each other.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) have outlined their latest strategies to strengthen the safety and standards of food products attempting to gain entry to the countries.

The Global Engagement Report, which was launched by FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg, details the agency’s updated plan to guarantee that imported food meets the same strict safety benchmarks as domestically manufactured products.

The FDA report comes within days of a Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) proposal, the Imported Food Sector Regulatory Proposal,to develop new food import safety regulations.

The proposed rules would require the implementation of specific measures and the introduction of a import license user fee.

International development

“As the volume of imported food increases, so too does the risk that some products will fail to meet FDA standards,” said the Global Engagement Report.

“In the face of these realities, inspection at the US borders or ports-of-entry is no longer sufficient to ensure the safety of the ever-increasing tide of imports to the United States.”

According to the report, the FDA can realistically inspect less than 3% of the food arriving at US ports - making it vital that the agency ensures these products meet US standards before they reach the US.

In response to these challenges, FDA has embraced a wide variety of strategies that increase its engagement in the global public health community, integrating the Agency’s knowledge of how products are developed manufactured, and delivered worldwide, and its ability to ensure that the imported products available to US consumers are safe and effective,” said the report.

This includes the further development of international offices and posts. The FDA already has offices in China, India, Latin America, South Africa, Europe and the Middle East.

The agency will also focus on the strengthening of regulatory capacity in foreign countries, the harmonisation of science-based standards, risk-based monitoring and inspection and global surveillance.

CFIA user fee

Under the proposed CFIA measures, food importers would be required to implement specific measures to identify, report, and recall potentially hazardous products from the marketplace.

The issue of a license, for which importers would be charged a user fee, would be dependent on the implementation of these measures.

The CFIA is anticipating the issue of 25,000 imports licenses in each two year period with an initial user fee of $259.48 for FY 2013/14. Each import license will be valid for two year under the proposal

It has taken the steps to meet the increasing value of imports entering the country, which has jumped by 45% in the last nine years.

“In 2010, Canada imported $30.7bn worth of food and agricultural products. While our existing food safety system remains effective, recent food safety issues have underscored the reality and risks of today’s increasingly complex global marketplace,” said the CFIA proposal.

“The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is proposing to develop new regulations that would tighten controls over the safety of imported foods sold in Canada,” it added.

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