The Food and Drug Administration can’t oversee global food imports on its own and should not plan on relying on third-party certifications — letting rules already in place in exporting countries to ensure food safety.
A new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office calls on the FDA to better oversee food imports by leveraging other countries’ food safety resources.
The FDA could use regulations in other countries to ensure food safety rather than mandate third-party food safety inspections, according to the report.
“If FDA had a comparability assessment agreement with a foreign country, a foreign competent authority would address any identified problems and take regulatory actions across the supply chain, as necessary,” according to the report.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said the GAO report is a good step toward ensuring the safety of imported food.
“With 80% of the seafood and more than half of the produce consumed here imported from abroad, it is imperative that we ensure the safety of all food — regardless of where it is produced,” she said in a release.
The Food Safety Modernization Act includes challenging steps required by the FDA regarding third-party audits under the Food Safety Modernization Act, according to the report. The FDA is required to develop preventive controls and guidance for all food under its jurisdiction. The GAO said the FDA must establish a voluntary user fee program for importers that encourages third-party certification. Encouraging importers to pay for the voluntary service will be a challenge, according to the GAO.
The FDA must also create standards for accreditation bodies, and will be hard-pressed to avoid potential conflicts of interests, according to the GAO.
The GAO report calls for the FDA to consider whether specific components of a foreign government’s oversight of a specific food industry are comparable with the U.S., and not require total comparability for all food regulated.
In a response to the GAO report, the FDA officials said it believes third-party certification is more appropriate for food safety controls on specific commodities, but said the agency would take comments from the public about their approach.