About 15 percent of the food supply of the United States is imported from other global sources, including half of all fresh fruit and 20 percent of all vegetables. At the same time, incidents of food contamination continue to increase while more and more, little of this foreign based food is inspected for safety due to a lack of governmental resources.

A Bloomberg BusinessWeek article syndicated on the SFGate.com web site calls attention to new rules proposed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for food originating outside the U.S. to be inspected at the source of export. This article reminds us that 48 million Americans get sick from food-borne diseases each year and that U.S. officials continue to be concerned about the levels of food-borne disease outbreaks and consequent product recalls.

In essence, the FDA is seeking to “outsource” inspection activities by way of importers who have food-sourcing operations in non-U.S. countries. Importers would need to ensure that foreign suppliers comply with existing FDA safety standards or local in-country standards meet U.S. requirements. The measures additionally outline accreditation procedures for third-party auditors who be designated to inspect foreign food suppliers. These newly proposed FDA standards to not apply to imported seafood or juices, which are governed by other federal agency standards.

The article points out that the FDA has come to the realization that it does not have sufficient resources to inspect the multitude of today’s foreign sources of food.  While food producers pay the FDA for inspection services, the growth of external sourcing in food supply chains has hampered the FDA’s ability to hire and sustain additional inspectors. In the article, an import industry trade association executive indicates that what is less clear, is how smaller food industry players, who lack the resources and infrastructure of the major food importers, will be able to comply with these proposed regulations.  Public comments remain opens for the next 90 days.

Some food industry executives are quick to point-out the burdens of increased regulation and how that negatively impacts supply chain. Supply Chain Matters applauds these latest efforts by the FDA and encourages food industry supply chain players to positively support these measures in the spirit of finding a more collaborative private and public approach for ensuring food safety.  At the same time, we believe that there needs to be some teeth in these new guidelines to punish abusers who attempt to implement shallow inspectional practices or rubber-stamp inspections.

Bob Ferrari