The U.S. Food and Drug Administration released a new report this week outlining the ways the agency is trying to fulfill its mission globally.
Though the report, titled “Global Engagement Report,” covers the broad swath of FDA-regulated products, including medical devices, drugs and cosmetics, it also details some of the agency’s key food safety initiatives abroad.
“As our world transforms and becomes increasingly globalized, we must come together in new, unprecedented, even unexpected, ways to build a public health safety net for consumers around the world,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg.
As FDA points out, the agency is charged with regulating products from more than 150 countries, 130,000 importers and 300,000 foreign facilities. Since 2005, food imports have grown year over year by an average of 10 percent.
Around half of the fresh fruits and 20 percent of vegetables Americans consume were grown abroad. The vast majority, 80 percent, of seafood is also imported. It’s hard to overstate the breadth of products and places that FDA must keep tabs on, in one way or another.
“As the volume of imported food increases, so too does the risk that some products will fail to meet FDA standards,” reads the report. “The realities of the global marketplace add substantial challenges to FDA’s ability to protect U.S. consumers. Less stringent regulations in many source countries, complex supply chains, and longer transit times for imported food all introduce a greater opportunity for contamination, spoilage, adulteration, and counterfeiting.”
Of course, the agency cannot reasonably be expected to inspect or test each shipment of food coming into the United States, but the new food safety law can help enforce best practices and measures that help prevent contamination or other problems. As the report notes:
“FDA can only realistically inspect a small percentage (less than 3 percent) of the enormous volume of food products arriving at U.S. ports of entry, making it crucial that the Agency focus on ensuring that food products meet U.S. standards before they reach the United States. The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), signed into law in January 2011, provides FDA with critical authorities to implement a significant new approach for protecting the safety and security of the U.S. food supply–one that promotes a new level of accountability for all entities in the supply chain from farm to fork–regardless of where they are in the world.”
FDA lists a number of strategies it’s employing to help strengthen oversight of imported products, including strengthening international offices and regulatory capacity, harmonizing science-based standards, leveraging knowledge and resources, risk-based monitoring and inspection, and advancing science. For more details on each of these strategies, see the full document here.
The report follows the document the agency put out last year “Pathway to Global Product Safety and Quality.”