The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is going into overdrive and and working with the food industry to meet the historic mandate of the new food safety law, Michael Taylor, FDA deputy commissioner for foods, said Thursday.
“We’ll hit the ground running,” said Taylor before an audience of food and drug safety experts during The Food and Drug Law Institute’s Food Week in Washington, D.C. “We have a strong team of experts with experience in preventive controls from both an industry and regulatory perspective, and we have already done a lot of work in anticipation of the new law.”
Taylor outlined the “profound changes” called for in the new law President Obama signed at the first of the year:
— Prevention of foodborne illness, not reaction to problems, is now the guiding principle of food safety law–with the primary responsibility for prevention resting squarely on the shoulders of food producers and processors.
— For the first time ever, FDA has an inspection mandate and new legal powers to ensure companies are meeting their prevention duty and to stop potentially unsafe food from entering commerce, not just remove it after the fact.
— Congress has made efficient, risk‐based use of resources and partnership among government food safety agencies the law of the land.
— And with the law’s new importer accountability requirements, there will be added assurances that food from abroad is as safe as domestic food.
Taylor emphasized that history will not be made until the changes modernize the food safety system.
“All told, Congress has called in effect for a new food safety system–one which meets the public’s high expectation that all of us with responsibility for food safety do everything we reasonably can to prevent food safety problems. And that’s historic,” said Taylor. “History will be made when prevention is the industry norm, not just the best practice.”
“History will be made when FDA changes its approach to inspection to take full advantage of the preventive controls framework and enhance our public health focus,” added Taylor. “History of a kind will be made when we issue our first mandatory recall order. It is important that we have this new power, and we thank the consumer community and the food industry for supporting it. But, let’s be clear, a mandatory recall is a of failure. It means preventive controls were either not in place or not used effectively. It means a company has not accepted the responsibility for its actions. We don’t expect to have many mandatory recalls, but the fewer we have, the more successful we have been.”
Taylor added that bringing the import oversight system “into the 21st century” would be making history as well, but overall all the agency’s success will be measured by reducing foodborne illnesses and outbreaks. He called the status quo unacceptable, while acknowledging that risk will never be completely eliminated.
Produce safety standards, a preventative controls review, and new domestic and import inspection strategies were all listed as policies that have been in the works over the past year. “We embark on implementation with considerable momentum,” said Taylor.
Critical funding issues were also discussed in the remarks. Taylor explained that they would be a “continuing issue” in building a new preventative system.
“As I hope I’ve made clear there is a lot FDA can and will do to put the new law into action and build the foundation for a new system, but completing the system–fulfilling the Congressional vision embedded in the new law–will require new resources and investment,” he said. “We look forward to working on this issue with our colleagues in industry and the consumer community, and with leaders in Congress.”
As Food Safety News has reported, granting increased funding to FDA to implement the new measures has become a contentious issue with the new Republican-controlled House.