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Romney win would mean more flexible FSMA, expert says

By Hank Schultz , 15-Oct-2012

The re-election of President Obama will mean a quicker and more stringent application of rules arising out of the Food Safety Modernization Act, an industry consultant has asserted.

“I think the impact on industry will be greater if Obama stays,” David Acheson, head of the Food and Import Safety Practice at Leavitt Partners, told NutraIngredients-USA. Leavitt Partners is a Washington, D.C.-based food safety and healthcare consultancy that was co-founded by former Utah governor and Health and Human Services secretary Michael Leavitt.

In a blog posted on the group’s website , Acheson argues that the differences will arise mostly out of a matter of philosophical approach.  No one will argue against the need for food safety rules, but within that context there is wide latitude for interpretation on how the FSMA rules will eventually be put into practice, he said.

Three categories of rules

Three categories of rules on how FSMA will be implemented have been sent to the Office of Management and Budget, Acheson said.  The rules govern preventive controls in human and animal food production, preventive controls governing the handling of produce and new rules regarding the importation of food and food ingredients.  OMB’s job is evaluate the impact of new laws and there were some legitimate questions on the FSMA rules that the agency was working through, he said.

They were looking at impacts on industry and trade impacts and at the impact on government.  Then we ran into the pre-election season,” he said.

Acheson speculates that for a variety of reasons the rules now almost certainly will not be issued before the election.  An Obama win would mean that the administration’s policy of government oversight to ensure consumer safety would continue, and the rules would end up as more burdensome for industry. Acheson foresees publication of the rules in the “near to mid term” under this scenario. If Obama loses, Acheson predicts that the administration will try to issue the rules quickly before the changeover in administrations, to “draw a line in the sand” on food safety regulations.

If Romney wins, however, there will a changeover in the political leadership at FDA.  And, having spent seven years at the agency, Acheson said that can make a significant difference.

“I know the players and I know the pressures,” he said.

 Romney more likely to put responsibility on industry

A Romney administration would be more likely to see industry, rather than federal regulators, as the best source of answers to how to best ensure food safety, Acheson said.  But he cautioned that the ideas of preventive controls and greater regulations on food importation were children of the most recent Bush administration.  The rules very likely could be rewritten in less restrictive form, and, if they are not pushed through hurriedly during an Obama lame duck interim, that means that final release of the rules could be expected later in 2013.

In any case, Acheson asserts in the blog, the holdup in the rules has caused headaches for industry and costs FDA valuable resources.

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