“With the release of the draft import rules, we are one step closer to the safer food supply,” says Sandra Eskin, director of food safety at Pew Charitable Trusts. “By holding overseas producers to U.S. food safety standards, the new rules would establish a level playing field that would also benefit U.S. businesses, farmers, and food processors,” she said in a statement.
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“Supplier verification means that companies should know who they are buying from—not just their name and address, but their food safety practices,” says Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “When these rules are eventually implemented they will, at long last, give the FDA strong tools to improve the safety of imported foods.”
“Globalization has added additional layers, fragments, and complexities to the food supply chain, which have increased the number of points where the supply chain is vulnerable to food contamination, counterfeits, and mislabeling,” says Michael Lucas, CEO of track and trace provider Frequentz. The new rules “show a major shift in thinking in the way the government works to keep food safe—stressing prevention and making businesses more responsible for the food they are selling or importing by proving that they are using good food safety practices,” he tells Food Quality & Safety.
But others see a downside because of added complexity and costs. “There is a presumption in this foreign supplier verification proposal about the extent of influence and control an American importer will have over his suppliers,” says Susan Kohn Ross, an international trade specialist at the law firm of Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp in Los Angeles. “While the large companies will be able to comply with some adjustments to existing procedures, this proposal is a real headache, recordkeeping nightmare, and cost burden for small and medium-sized companies,” she wrote in a recent analysis.
The FDA estimates compliance with the new rules will cost the U.S. food industry about $500 million annually. “For sure, increased costs will be passed onto the consumer for these compliance mechanisms to take place,” Acheson says. And while some food importing companies have been anticipating the rules, others have not. ”For many importers, the rules will come as a bit of a surprise. We’re going to see confusion, surprise, and concern,” Acheson predicts.
The two rules are open for public comment until November 26, 2013. The FDA has extended the deadline for commenting on two earlier draft regulations—for produce safety and preventive controls for human food—until November 15, 2013. This was done to give people time to consider how the four rules interrelate. (A fifth FSMA rule on preventive controls for animal food is expected to be issued by November 2013.)
Agres is based in Laurel, Md. Reach him at email@example.com.