When Congress passed the Food & Safety Modernization Act (“FSMA”) a little over four years ago, we all knew it was going to be a big deal. After years of import safety problems and market disruptions that shook consumer confidence, Congress established a modern system of food safety protection based on preventing such failures from happening in the first place, rather than simply reacting to problems. The overarching goal is to achieve better food safety — fewer illnesses, stronger consumer confidence in the system of protection, and a level playing field in which foreign food companies are held to the same scrutiny as Americans businesses.
With broad input and support from industry and consumers alike, Congress has crafted a strong vision to reach a food safety system fit for the 21st century. This system must be built on how to make food safe, manage global supply chains, and have buy-in from all affected stakeholders — public and private, domestic and foreign. Only with this foundation will we be able to ensure that practical, effective, preventive measures are consistently followed.
FSMA is about far more than new rules. It’s about fundamental changes to the FDA’s approach to implementing food safety rules, including the way it works with other governments and the food industry to achieve food safety. The FDA has devoted a huge amount of effort over the past two years to rethinking every aspect of what will go into achieving high rates of compliance with the FSMA rules — for both home-grown and imported food — creating a healthier food environment and the level playing field on food safety that American industry demands.
The FSMA is very focused when it comes to imported food. The volume of imports is vast and growing, and the number of foreign manufacturing facilities registered to sell food in the United States is greater than the number of U.S. facilities. Safety problems with imported foods were one of the main drivers of FSMA’s enactment. Congress recognized that the old system of relying almost entirely on FDA inspectors to detect and correct food safety problems by examining food at the border is drastically outmoded.
Congress thus mandated a new import safety system that harnesses the ability of importers to manage their supply chains, giving them responsibility over ensuring imports meet the new standards. It has also directed the FDA to increase its foreign presence through more foreign inspections and more engagement with foreign governments to similarly leverage their food safety efforts.
Finally, and crucially, the FDA’s 2016 budget request reflects the unavoidable fact that the future is now when it comes to FSMA implementation. By the end of 2016, we will begin to see the FSMA rules go into effect through legally mandated FSMA inspections of food facilities. Those inspections will happen.
In terms of preparing for effective and efficient FSMA implementation, if we invest properly in 2016 to prepare the FDA and the industry for success, the result will be better food safety, stronger public confidence, and a level playing field for U.S. farmers and food companies. If we don’t invest properly in 2016, food safety will suffer. People will get sick who wouldn’t otherwise, and the food industry will be disrupted — large and small operators alike — due to both lack of guidance and technical assistance at the industry level and lack of consistent, technically well-supported inspection by the FDA and the states.