« Agriculture

New FDA food standards could be voluntarily adopted by accreditation bodies

by Dan Cash

It may be a bit more harsh than necessary, but the first thing that popped into my mind was the old saying about “. . . .setting the fox to guarding the henhouse”, as I became aware of the new pronouncement from Washington that legislation adopted by Congress in 2010 was moving toward implementation by way of the Food and Drug Administration. These new rules, and here comes a quote, “drafted by the Food and Drug Administration...represent one piece...“ in a renewed effort to assure that imported foods meetU.S.safety standards.  Now here comes the “Fox” part. Quoting again, “domestic importers for the first time would have to vouch for the food safety practices of their overseas suppliers”. 

Photo: The headquarters of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is shown in Silver Spring, Maryland, November 4, 2009. REUTERS/Jason Reed 

So, what are the importers in this country going to do?  So, Mr South American, or Mr Mexican, or Mr Asian, can you tell me for sure this stuff you’re selling me was produced in your country according toU.S.standards for purity and sanitation?  You’re sure? OK!  Start unloading while I draw up a check for the full amount.”

This procedure, if it doesn’t work, will find some of us getting sick from eating contaminated imported food.  If it DOES work - - well, it’ll be successful beyond the wildest imaginings of anybody involved in this particular process.  Consider this:  In 2011, the FDA inspected SIX percent of our own food producers, and four TENTHS of imports.  If FDA can come up with another bazillion dollars in that budget, maybe TWELVE percent of domestic producers could be inspected and EIGHT tenths of importers.

Now that I think about it, maybe there’s no choice but to take a chance on the several foxes doing the right thing after all.  This whole concept is going to be especially impactful on a few of our state producers, and the state of Michigan is right up there, because about 15% of our food supply originates outside our borders, including 50% of fresh fruits and 20% of fresh vegetables.

Before all this takes place, there’s a time for comment, and that time has now been extended to the middle of September.

If it does happen, the first part of the proposal will see importers required to maintain information about the prevention systems used for their products, and they’ll have to keep records the FDA can review; the second proposal has FDA recognizing accreditation bodies based on such criteria as competency and impartiality; they, in turn would accredit third-party auditors.

The hope is, according to FDA deputy commissioner Michael Taylor, that the standards may be voluntarily adopted by accreditation bodies that also certify private auditors who inspect food in theU.S.

By Golly, I’m hopeful, too. But not really confident.