The GAO (General Accountability Office) just came out with a new report calling for increases to the FDA’s authority over imported food items in our supply chains.
According to Reuters, the FDA is unable to inspect much of the imported food; in particular fresh items like fruits, vegetables, and seafood. Therefore import inspections are done by CBP, who are not charged with inspecting food for safe public consumption, but rather for “securing trade from acts of terrorism and assuring that goods arriving in the U.S. are legitimate and that appropriate duties and fees are paid.” The FDA would then need to go re-inspect the items for food safety reasons.
From the report:
Customs and Border Protection (CBP), under the Department of Homeland Security, is responsible for inspecting food imports for compliance with U.S. law and coordinating with FDA to enforce food safety laws at the border, among other things. CBP’s computerized screening system processes all imported shipments, including food. CBP requires importers to (1) give a manufacturer identification number for each imported shipment and (2) post a monetary bond for formal entries to provide assurance that these shipments meet U.S. requirements, among other things.
But GAO said Customs and Border Patrol was not alerting FDA when imports of food arrive. Plus the FDA is not capable of inspecting the volume of fresh food imports coming into the US:
“First, imported food makes up a substantial and growing portion of the U.S. food supply, with 60 percent of fresh fruits and vegetables and 80 percent of seafood coming from across our borders,” it said.
The FDA can inspect just 1 percent of this food.
The FDA is also having other issues that are not import-related, but I’ll keep it topical for this blog’s purposes.
The FDA is working on a computer system that will predict which food imports are most likely to be contaminated. Under the new system, called “Predict,” border staff can check products in a computer database that gives a score for the risk level. The score is calculated in part based on whether the maker has a history of recalls and how susceptible the product is to contamination. High-score products can be set aside for further checks.
What does this mean for import compliance for food?
Be on the lookout for potentially increased cooperation between CBP and FDA. The GAO report says that the CBP and FDA do not share data between their systems. This could be a high priority for the agencies, especially considering the FDA is already in the midst of developing their own safety computer system (PREDICT.)
FDA may ask for the authority to leverage fines upon importers. From the report:
“FDA has limited authority to assess penalties on importers who introduce violative food products, and the lack of a unique identifier for firms exporting food products may allow contaminated food to evade FDA review.”
Importers can retain possession of their food shipments until FDA approves their release into U.S. commerce. However, FDA and CBP officials do not believe that CBP’s current bonding procedures for FDA-regulated food effectively deter importers from introducing violative food products into U.S. commerce. Specifically, importers post a monetary bond for formal entries (i.e., all shipments exceeding $2,000 and certain shipments valued below that amount) to provide assurance that these shipments meet U.S. requirements. According to these officials, many importers still consider the occasional payment of forfeited bonds as part of the cost of doing business.
As always, ensure your suppliers and transporters are following safe practices when dealing with food. Particularly if you have dealt with a recall in the past, you will be susceptible to further checks once the new Predict system is in place. Keep that in mind when estimating shipment times. It may be useful to implement supply chain visibility software to keep track of your shipments and alert you in the event of delays.
You can read the complete report on the GAO website, lots of great info in there: Food Safety: FDA Could Strengthen Oversight of Imported Food by Improving Enforcement and Seeking Additional Authorities (PDF)
Alternately, read Reuters’ summary at: FDA needs more clout to make food supply safer