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The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Friday released final new rules under the Food Safety & Modernization Act (FSMA) that, as the New York Times reports, "for the first time put the main responsibility on companies for policing the food they import. The rules also include new safety standards for produce grown on American farms. Some take effect in a year."

The Wall Street Journal writes that "the regulations ... moved the government closer to implementing a law passed by Congress in 2010, which marked the biggest overhaul of federal food-safety oversight in 70 years. The regulations follow a wave of deadly outbreaks in the past decade that have been traced to produce—such as tainted spinach, cantaloupe and caramel apples—and are aimed at creating a food-safety system that will be less reactive and better at preventing contamination."

The Times goes on: "The new rules require importers to show that the food they bring into the United States meets American safety standards. They would do that by hiring third-party auditors to check the safety of the food in foreign facilities, a system that some consumer advocates had cautioned might give companies too much discretion but that federal officials argue is the standard for the food industry and will be brought under the spotlight of federal oversight ... The produce rule sets standards for growing, harvesting, packing and storing produce on farms in the United States. It includes requirements for water quality, employee health and hygiene, and manure and compost use."

“These rules represent a lot of compromises," David Plunkett, a senior staff lawyer at the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s food safety program, tells the Times. “But imported food will at least now have someone who is responsible for assuring its safety. The bottom line is the food supply will be safer.”

However, the rules don;t exactly represent a done deal.

The Journal notes that "Friday’s announcement means just two of the seven major rules under the 2010 Food Safety Modernization Act still need to be finalized by the deadline next year.

"It is unclear, however, if the FDA will receive all of the funding the Obama administration says it needs to fully implement and enforce the law. The FDA has said it requires $260 million, including $109.5 million for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. President Barack Obama requested that amount, but appropriations bills in both the House and Senate included just $41.5 million and $45 million, respectively, for fiscal 2016, when all the rules will be finalized."

Food industry executives were generally laudatory in their responses. Among them...

“These final rules published today reflect many, but not all, of the amendments PMA and other leading food trade organizations have recommended in their comments to FDA in the last few years,” said Jim Gorny, PMA vice president of food safety and technology. “We’re pleased that FDA considered the practical needs of the produce industry; however, we still have concerns and questions about some of the specific implementation details regarding these rules.

"The publication of these FSMA rules is not an endpoint but rather a beginning, which now requires understanding, planning, implementation and verification by businesses. To that end, we’re pleased to learn FDA will also soon be issuing important companion guidance documents for these final rules that will provide more detailed information about coverage and compliance requirements.” 

American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI) Interim president Joseph Clayton said that AFFI stands ready "to work with the administration and Congress to ensure sufficient federal resources are allocated to FDA’s critical food safety activities without imposing new costs on food makers and consumers through user fees.”

And Food Marketing Institute (FMI) Vice President of Food Safety Programs Hilary Thesmar said, “We are anticipating a long road ahead with FSMA implementation; we look forward to working closely with the agency and the food retail industry’s supply chain partners on implementing a consistent system that only strengthens the safest food supply in the world.”
KC's View:
It would be just like the US Congress to pass legislation and then do its best to financially handcuff the FDA from being able to implement the very regulations that it is supposed to enforce. That way, elected officials can get credit for addressing food safety without actually having to deal with the reality that such things cost money.

In the most general sense, these regulations simply acknowledge a simple reality - as food safety issues proliferate, in part because of consumer desire for "cleaner food" and a growing distrust of "big food" companies - these same consumers are going to hold companies responsible for missteps, mistakes and malpractice. It is critically important that companies be compelled to have better food safety procedures and keep better food safety records so that the system can respond more efficiently and effectively - and transparently - when problems occur.

We've been talking about food safety in this vein for a long time here on MNB ... long before we had a sponsor, ReposiTrak, that was focused on providing solutions. (I mention this because I think it is important to be transparent and acknowledge that I do, in fact, have a dog in this hunt. But it doesn't matter ... because I'd being say all this regardless.)