The departments of Agriculture and Homeland Security, along with the Food and Drug Administration, in September signed an agreement with the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture to further develop integrated federal-state response plans for food and agricultural emergencies.
The agreement advances one of many homeland security directives set by President Bush to improve federal, state, and local cooperation through enhanced response and recovery procedures in the event of a disaster.
The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, FDA, and DHS's Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection are funding the development of an integrated approach to prepare for and respond to emergencies affecting national agriculture and food infrastructure.
The state agriculture departments will gain technical expertise from FSIS, FDA, and DHS officials through work groups and tabletop exercises. Best practices and guidelines for federal and state food regulatory officials will be developed to address lessons learned from case studies and threat assessments.
"This agreement greatly strengthens the essential food safety network of federal, state, and municipal governments," said Dr. Lester Crawford, acting FDA commissioner. "Establishment of clear and consistent practices for combating threats to the food supply is a necessary prerequisite to the public health imperative of providing secure, safe, and nutritious food for all Americans."
The cooperative agreement will occur in three phases, with the first phase starting immediately and phase three concluding by June 2005.
During the first phase, a work group of federal, state, and local officials will gather information about existing state emergency response systems and how food/agricultural safety and security emergencies will be handled within the various states.
During the second phase, the work group will develop an interagency response plan that includes state and local participation, conduct tabletop exercises and pilots to test functionality of the emergency response plan, and refine it on the basis of lessons learned and other input.
Phase three will involve the development of guidelines for federal food and agricultural regulatory agencies to cooperate with state and local emergency response efforts. This will facilitate federal assistance to be made available more quickly and appropriately to assist the local response and recovery efforts.
"Securing our nation's food supply requires a unified effort from the federal to the farm level," said Frank Libutti, DHS undersecretary for Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection. "This agreement is our next step in making sure that everyone is working together to keep our nation safe."
Additional information about food security is available on the FSIS Web page at www.fsis.usda.gov/Food_Security_&_Emergency_Preparedness/index.asp and the FDA's Web page at www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/fsterr.html