Four pillar plan will ensure import safety, GMA says

By Charlotte Eyre

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food safety, Foodborne illness

The US Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) today announced an
action plan for strengthening food safety, to meet concerns that
increased imports from overseas has resulted in a wave of faulty or
damaged products.

The association, which counts food giants such as Kraft and Heinz as members, said that the current system of checks was failing to stem the tide of faulty imports, especially in the face of a rising number of goods manufactured or processed from abroad. "Ensuring the United States has the safest food supply in the world is priority number one for the food and beverage industry,"​ said Cal Dooley, GMA President. He added: "Because we cannot simply inspect our way to a safer food supply, industry can apply its vast knowledge and practical experience along the entire supply chain to prevent problems before they arise." ​ The GMA divided its proposal into four sections, or "pillars", that will each play an important role in supporting the US food chain in a global market. The first "pillar" will require every importer to adopt a foreign supplier quality assurance program to make sure every single product or ingredient complies with Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standards, Dooley said. Another important issue to develop is to make sure that foreign governments who wish to trade with the US have food safety standards similar or the same to those of the US, he added. The other two "pillars" detailed in a report involve government freeing up more money and resources for the FDA, while, reciprocally, the FDA must pledge to use the extra resources and "adequately fulfil its food safety mission." ​The GMA has for a long while now been lobbying the government to spend more money on food safety issues, especially after a series of food contamination problems were linked to spinach, shellfish and peanut butter earlier this year. The association welcomed the extra $186m Congress allotted to the FDA in July, saying that, "for far too long the FDA has been woefully under-funded". "The growing diversification of the world's food supply and today's complex global marketplace demand that Congress appropriate the necessary funds to ensure our nation's food safety system is second to none," ​the GMA stated. "We are hopeful the House of Representatives will agree that the FDA needs an appropriate level of resources to effectively accomplish its food safety mission." ​The government itself is also making moves to combat food safety problems, and last week a panel of experts, established by President George Bush earlier this summer, said that the government should focus on targeting imports that inspectors suspect would fail safety checks. Instead of randomly testing products as they enter the US, the government should "shrink the size of the borders",​ said group chairman Michael Leavitt, and focus on targeting imports that inspectors suspect would fail safety checks. These measures need to be put in place soon, the report said, as imported goods are increasing by massive numbers each year. According to the Washington Post, the value of goods imported by the US has doubled since 2000, to reach an estimated $2.2tn this year. The value of goods from China, which is the second-largest exporter to the US after Canada, is expected to reach $341bn this year, up almost 25 per cent from last year. Diseases caused by food-borne pathogens are still common-place in the US, the newspaper added, and this week California's Dole Food had to recall over 5,000 bags of salad after a random test revealed the presence of E. coli on the product. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 76 million cases of food-borne illnesses occur in the US each year, causing about 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths. The CDC identified 17,252 laboratory-confirmed cases of food poisoning in 2006, including 6,655 cases of salmonella and 590 cases of E-coli O157. In 2005, 16,614 cases were identified, rising from 15,806 in 2004.

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