11/14/2013 - Americans receive about 15 percent of their food from overseas—about half of all fresh fruits, a fifth of fresh vegetables, and 80 percent of seafood—and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has proposed new rules to make that food safer.
One rule would require, for the first time, that importers verify that the food they import is safe. The other would set criteria for third-party auditors who could be engaged by food companies in certain circumstances to make sure imports are safe.
Along with the release of the draft rules on produce and processed foods in January 2013, the publication of the proposed food import rules this past summer means that finalization is near for the key rules needed to put the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act in effect. The law, which Congress passed in 2010, was the first significant overhaul of the nation’s food safety laws in seven decades. Enactment of the law and its implementation and funding have been a top priority of The Pew Charitable Trusts. Pew worked with policymakers, consumer advocates, and the food industry to advance the legislation, which was considered a successful demonstration of bipartisanship in Washington.
The need for rules about imported food shows how much Americans’ cooking and eating habits have changed since the nation began regulating food safety. The food supply is increasingly globalized—the 15 percent of food now imported is double the proportion of imports from just a decade ago.
“The release of these draft rules means we are one step closer to a safer food supply, thanks to the bipartisan FDA food safety law. Once they’re in place, the rules will ensure that foreign foods are held to the same high safety standards as American products,” says Sandra Eskin, who directs Pew’s food safety project. “This will better protect all of us.”
FDA attempts to keep tabs on food imports but manages to inspect only 1 to 2 percent of what comes through the nation’s ports and borders. The new rules would require importers to confirm that their foreign suppliers are producing safe food through various means, such as audits, testing, and record review.
Pew is continuing to study the draft rules to ensure they meet the goals of the new food safety laws. They mark “an important improvement over the current weak import system,” says Erik Olson, who oversees Pew’s food programs.
For more information, go to pewtrusts.org/foodsafety.