FSMA Stuck in Limbo

As the White House Office of Management and Budget continues to review—but not release—proposed regulations to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act, Canada and China are beginning to revise their own food safety laws in order to improve their domestic and imported food supplies. Those efforts are still in the early stages, and it remains to be seen how U.S. food producers and exporters will be affected by them.

The Canadian government announced draft legislation that would consolidate four separate food statutes administered and enforced by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, increasing the safety and competitiveness of Canadian food domestically and internationally. The proposed legislation, called the Safe Food for Canadians Act, was introduced in the Senate in June. It is likely to undergo substantial debate and refinement during the legislative process.

At present, the draft legislation is more descriptive than specific. In general, it would standardize inspections across food types, provide for tougher penalties, strengthen food traceability, and increase import and export controls. Like FSMA, the Safe Food for Canadians Act would hold importers accountable for the safety of imported products, authorize the government to register or license importers, and prohibit the importation of unsafe food commodities. “Holding importers accountable for the safety of imported products will also promote a level playing field between importers and domestic producers,” said a legislative overview posted on the CFIA website.

The proposed legislation would give the CFIA increased authority to develop regulations related to tracing and recalling food, with “appropriate tools to take action on potentially unsafe food commodities, when needed.” This includes a specific prohibition against selling foods that have been recalled. The act would also provide new prohibitions on food tampering, deceptive practices, and hoaxes, with increased fines and penalties to deter “willful or reckless threats to health and safety.”

In an acknowledgement to its neighbor to the south, the Canadian legislation notes that it “will align more closely with those of our trading partners, such as the Food Safety Modernization Act in the United States.” As such, the traceability and import control provisions should be of particular interest to U.S. food companies, according to David Acheson, MD, managing director of the food and import safety practice at Leavitt Partners and former FDA associate commissioner of foods.

For example, Dr. Acheson noted, it is unclear whether the Canadian government will accept current U.S. export certificates or will require more robust certification, as will be expected under FSMA. It is also unclear whether the U.S. government will be allowed to “certify” exports for Canada and, if so, what that process will involve. Also unknown is the extent of product traceability and whether that tracking will be in sync with U.S. requirements under FSMA.

“This proposal is in the early stages of development,” Dr. Acheson wrote in a recent blog post, “but for anyone who is doing business with Canadian firms, this is clearly a space to watch as the process unfolds.”

Canada and China are beginning to revise their own food safety laws in order to improve their domestic and imported food supplies. Those efforts are still in the early stages, and it remains to be seen how U.S. food producers and exporters will be affected by them.

China Plans for Food Safety

Also in June, China’s Ministry of Health announced a new five-year plan to upgrade food safety regulations in an effort to address the serious problems that continue to plague that nation’s food supply. The plan—the latest in a dozen such pronouncements—came as one of China’s largest dairy product manufacturers, the Inner Mongolia Yili Industrial Group, recalled all powdered infant milk formula it had produced from November 2011 to May 2012 because of excessive amounts of mercury. The recall was the latest in a series of mishaps and scandals that have eroded public confidence in the nation’s domestic food supply (see October/November 2011 issue of Food Quality).

About Ted Agres

Ted Agres covers food safety regulatory and legislative issues from the nation’s capital. He has 40 years of experience in reporting on issues such as health policy, medical technology, and pharmaceutical development. He holds an MBA from Johns Hopkins University and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Chicago. He enjoys playing the piano, amateur radio, and paintball. He lives in Laurel, MD.

View more by this author»

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *