(Sept. 27) Despite agriculture’s best efforts to protect its products, recent recalls of baby carrots, spinach and bagged salads have kept consumers and government regulators on edge to the point where the U.S. Food and Drug Administration may seek more stringent food safety enforcement authority.
The fresh produce industry and Washington are seeking a consistent national food safety standard, but at this point the FDA has little enforcement authority when it comes to heading off contamination or recalls.
The House Agriculture Appropriations’ Subcommittee on Sept. 26 addressed the issue. David Acheson, the FDA’s assistant commissioner of food production, said the agency needs to be more proactive to prevent contamination through an inspection system that would provide a faster response.
The lack of an inspection system sets U.S. food safety procedures a world apart from that of Canada, its largest trading partner with more than $533.7 billion in goods in 2006, according to a Congressional Research Service report to Congress.
DIFFERENT APPROACHES TO FOOD SAFETY
Under its present guidelines, the FDA has little enforcement authority during recalls, whereas the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has legislative authority to fine companies and even jail their principals.
The FDA does not generally have the authority to order a recall. What legal action the FDA can take is limited to seizure of product, injunction of the firm and a court request to recall the product.
Canada is more prone to take the carrot and stick approach, first working with a company to discover the extent of contamination and illnesses, then warning consumers and setting in motion a voluntary recall.
“If we get a refusal to do a recall we have legislation authority under the Canadian Food Inspection Agency Act where we can order a mandatory recall,” said Garfield Balsom, a food safety recall specialist with CFIA’s Food Recall and Emergency Response department. “We can go to the minister of agriculture and get a recall order that becomes an enforceable order punishable by a $50,000 fine and jail terms if the order is not adhered to.”
Balsom said the recall order would not be served on the foreign supplier or manufacturer, but against the Canadian-based agent selling or distributing the product. In the case of the recent recall involving Dole bagged lettuce, Loblaws, the retail store that sold the product in which a single bag was found to be contaminated with E. coli, was informed of the finding. It was then up to Loblaws to inform its distributor and supplier, Dole Fresh Vegetables Inc., Monterey, Calif.