Since September 11, the Bush administration has poured billions of dollars into measures to crank up food security. The action plan devised by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) seeks to address the potential threat to the domestic and imported food supply.
Under the new Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Prevention and Response Act cleared by Congress last year, new rules require domestic and foreign food plants to register with the agency and require food importers to give the FDA advance notice before shipments arrive at ports or border crossings.
The agency requires notice two to eight hours in advance of food coming into the US via car, train, plane or ship.
Recognising the slow uptake by foreign and domestic food companies to register the FDA - at the end of November more than 90 per cent of foreign and domestic facilities had yet to register - on Thursday the FDA said it would not turn away food from importers that fail to alert the agency of the shipments in advance until after 12 March.
'"Our intention all along has been to implement the Bioterrorism Act in a way that would protect consumers without obstructing the food imports,' said said FDA commissioner Mark B. McClellan.
Companies will have a grace period of 8 months, up until 12 August 2004, to register and get to grips with the new rules.
'The goal of the transition policy is to provide complete clarity and education about the new import requirements, and achieve a higher level of US food security without disrupting trade,' added McClellan.
The compliance guide can be found on the FDA website.