With the birth of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), the FDA has been armed with the necessary sanction to streamline the food safety system in the U.S. It has since issued seven proposed rules to farmers, manufacturers, and importers aimed at ensuring that our food is safe for consumption and that the issues of maintaining a global marketplace will be reduced, or at least well-managed.
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However, this is merely the beginning of a long process. The authority of the FDA to enforce such mandates will do little good without the necessary resources and financial ability to guarantee that these rules are being implemented and that suppliers and manufacturers remain compliant.
The food and beverage industry is more global than ever. Food and beverage companies are more often purchasing raw materials from global suppliers in an effort to reduce costs. While these initiatives have succeeded in reducing costs and meeting inventory requirements, they have also reduced visibility into production processes and increased the risk of companies failing to meet the food safety standards enforced by FSMA. The proposed increase in funds will be used to support the ongoing efforts of the FDA and the CDC to increase their technical expertise, improve their import and domestic inspection capacity, and ensure a faster resolution to a foodborne disease outbreak.
In order to appropriately support FSMA with new required resources, training for inspectors, and education and technology assistance for the industry, the proposed $253 million in additional funding is expected to come from new user fees, specifically for imported foods. The user fees that the FDA has requested seem to have stirred up a bit of controversy, with some believing they will pay a fee and receive nothing in return, but proponents of this increased budget are merely ready to see FSMA become fully implemented and realize that this cannot happen without the appropriate funding.
At a time when the global economy is still on shaky ground, piling on more financial commitments for facility registrations and user fees on importers may result in food price increases for businesses such as restaurants or supermarkets, and eventually for consumers. In summary, the increase in prices will have an overarching impact on everyone in the market at a time when very few can afford it.
Enough to Make a Difference?
Although the idea of improving the food safety of consumers is to be applauded, the current funding cannot effectively support the effort and the resources needed to appropriately handle all the requirements imposed by FSMA. Food imports alone represent more than 15 percent of the food consumed by Americans, and in such a global supply chain network there can be hundreds and even thousands of suppliers to keep track of. For example, a single U.S. banana bread manufacturer imports its bananas from a handful of different countries. If one of those areas has a fungal outbreak and cannot properly communicate the issue to the company, then the lack of visibility into the supplier’s materials would hinder problem detection, negatively impacting overall product quality. There is a substantial need on both ends for a unified system to ensure the quality of consumer goods is maintained across the entire supplier network before products make their way onto store shelves.
Current budget allocation can support the regulatory framework of FSMA, but the management, monitoring, and inspections are just not properly staffed or trained to support these new requirements. Both the FDA and food and beverage companies should seriously consider investing in ROI-proven technologies, such as Enterprise Quality Management Systems (EQMS), to ensure the quality and safety of this country’s food supply.