The organisation published two proposed new rules yesterday under the bipartisan Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
The first rule would require importers to ensure that foreign suppliers are achieving equivalent food safety standards as domestic producers and processors. They would also have to develop a food safety plan for imported food, identifying hazards which are reasonably likely to occur, and acting to ensure that these hazards are controlled.
The second proposed rule would amend existing regulations to allow accreditation of certification bodies and third-party auditors to conduct food safety audits of foreign food manufacturers, and issue certifications for foreign facilities and food under certain circumstances.
Michael R Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, said: “FSMA provides the FDA with a modern tool kit that shifts the paradigm for imports, as well as domestic foods, from a strategy of reaction to one of systematic prevention.
“Rather than relying primarily on FDA investigators at the ports to detect and respond to food safety problems, importers would, for the first time, be held accountable for verifying, in a manner transparent to the FDA, that the food they import is safe.”
The proposed rules have been opened for public comment until 26 November 2013.
Chile chicken recall
The proposals come days after a US consumer advocacy group warned that the recall of nearly 200,000 pounds (lb) of imported chicken from Chile demonstrated failures in the US food safety system for imports.
The US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) issued a public notification on 27 July warning that the Chilean Ministry of Health was recalling chicken products produced by the San Vicente establishment after samples had tested positive for the chemical dioxin. FSIS said the recall affected 188,522lb of chicken, 126,082lb of which was currently being held.
However, Food & Water Watch questioned how the chicken had entered the US without the contamination being identified. It also asked why FSIS had chosen to issue a notification rather than a recall or public health alert to reflect the severity of the problem.
“According to the World Health Organization, ‘Dioxins are highly toxic and can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and also cause cancer’ and ‘due to the highly toxic potential of this class of compounds, efforts need to be undertaken to reduce current background exposure’. Therefore, why does FSIS not consider this particular case a serious public health concern?” the organisation said.
Food & Water Watch pointed out that FSIS had previously identified a number of problems with the Chilean food safety system for poultry, and that this was one of a number of food safety issues that had been raised over imports from the country, with imported fruit previously found to contain pesticides and seafood from the country found to have high levels of mercury.
It urged the US to take action to ensure that food from Chile, which is part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, was safe for US consumers.
“The Obama Administration needs to take note of the food safety issues plaguing Chile and it needs to ensure that food safety standards are not sacrificed to advance global trade in food,” said Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter.