The FDA could use regulations in other countries to ensure food safety rather than mandate third-party food safety inspections, according to the report.
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.
David Acheson, former FDA associate commissioner for food protection and partner in Leavitt Partners, Washington, D.C., said establishing an equivalency program for the many different produce items alone would take years to do.
Acheson said he believes the GAO report puts pressure on the FDA to develop a private-sector third-party audit system and accreditation process.
Whether the FDA intends to recognize third-party food safety audits is not yet known, he said.