Two new plans for import safety emphasize preventing problems rather than relying only on border inspections to detect dangers such as adulterants in food ingredients.
The Interagency Working Group on Import Safety presented its action plan Nov. 6 as the product of extensive coordination among federal agencies, hands-on information gathering, and feedback from the private sector. President Bush established the working group in July following massive recalls of pet food and other goods because of concerns about import safety.
The Action Plan for Import Safety proposes focusing resources on critical points in the importation process to maximize the effectiveness of public and private safeguards. According to the working group, attempting to inspect all imports would bring trade to a standstill.
In addition, the working group proposes authorizing the Food and Drug Administration to issue mandatory recalls of food products that pose a serious threat when the producer or importer does not issue a voluntary recall with sufficient speed.
The FDA makes the same proposal in its new Food Protection Plan, which the agency developed in conjunction with the Action Plan for Import Safety. The FDA Food Protection Plan covers food from domestic and foreign producers. The FDA's plan aims to prevent harm, intervene at key points in the food production system to verify safety, and respond immediately to any problems.
One recommendation of the Action Plan for Import Safety is to strengthen programs for certifying that foreign goods meet U.S. safety standards. According to the interagency working group, the FDA needs the authority to require that producers of certain high-risk foods in other countries—under agreements with those countries—certify that the products meet FDA standards before exporting to the United States. Foreign manufacturers of other products could complete voluntary certification to expedite entry of their goods.
The working group suggests making public the names of foreign producers that complete certification and U.S. companies that import only from those producers. The action plan also recommends providing incentives for importers to maintain the best safety practices for products that carry the greatest risks.
Another recommendation is to increase information sharing among importers, federal agencies, and foreign governments. The working group suggests that product safety should be a guiding principle of U.S. cooperative agreements with foreign governments.
Furthermore, the working group suggests that Congress should give import safety and inspection agencies the ability to strengthen standards. The action plan recommends that the federal government strengthen penalties against entities that violate U.S. laws.
The Food Protection Plan provides for the FDA to work with industry and local, state, and foreign governments to identify vulnerabilities. The agency will look to industry to mitigate vulnerabilities. The FDA's plan emphasizes that manufacturers, processors, and inspectors should focus their sampling and inspections on the basis of risk. The plan also calls for enhancing FDA information systems to improve response and communications when threats arise.
Details about the Interagency Working Group for Import Safety and the full text of its action plan are available at www.importsafety.gov. The FDA Food Protection Plan is available at www.fda.gov/oc/.