Fulfilling the Promise of the Food Safety Modernization Act: The Importance of Stakeholder Engagement
Recently, I had the good fortune to fill in for an FDA colleague on a panel entitled, “Assuring the Safety of Imported Food” at the National Food Policy Conference, which is organized by the Consumer Federation of America.
Participants at the conference included a broad spectrum of activists, public officials, nutrition professionals, farm and food industry representatives, and scientists who are interested in agriculture, food and nutrition policy. The Food and Drug Administration Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was one of the key areas of focus at the conference.
Even though I was called from the audience to participate unexpectedly in the panel, I hoped my role as Vice-Chair of FDA’s FSMA Imports Implementation Team would stand me in good stead. Fortunately, the other panelists spoke first, which gave me the chance to organize my thoughts.
My fellow panelists, Caroline Smith DeWaal, from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Mike Robach, from Cargill, and Eduardo Santos from Allen F. Johnson and Associates spoke eloquently on the challenges and opportunities that the imports provisions of FSMA represent to consumers, industry, and other countries. They identified various key issues associated with FSMA implementation including the costs associated with implementation, training, capacity building in exporting countries, and ensuring both accountability and fairness.
In addition to emphasizing some of the main features of the FSMA imports provision, I discussed how FDA is approaching the task of developing over 50 deliverables mandated by FSMA, our outreach strategy, the importance of making sure our actions are consistent with our WTO obligations, and the overarching need for stakeholder involvement.
The main message I hoped to leave with the audience was the importance of their role as stakeholders in providing information, practical scenarios, and data as we proceed with FSMA implementation. FDA’s significant and ongoing effort at early engagement via public meetings has already provided FDA with many useful insights. I encouraged stakeholders to use the “notice and comment” process to continue to provide information and feedback in response to upcoming proposed regulations.
The task before us is huge. Currently, there are over 160 countries exporting hundreds of thousands of FDA regulated food products to the U.S. How do we collectively assure safety? How do the import provisions consider domestic provisions? FSMA provides the framework to harness leading business global food safety practices, consumer expectations and importer practicalities, with agency standards and oversight. We have a long way to go before we fully implement FSMA, but we have the platform on which to build and I am confident that we are up to the task at hand.
During the conference, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsac, CDC Director Thomas Frieden, and FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg highlighted the work of their respective agencies in addressing nutrition and food safety issues. They each echoed the importance of food safety and the public imperative for stakeholders to work together to optimize the safety and nutritional adequacy of our food supply.
Dr. Hamburg started her speech with, “Will Rogers liked to say that most political promises are about as solid as applesauce… (and FDA regulates applesauce!) But some promises are just too important not to keep… like the promise that our food supply will be safe for every American.”
Each of us has a stake in bringing this promise to life. The National Food Policy Forum was a terrific opportunity to be inspired, to strengthen our resolve, and to keep the stakeholder momentum moving ever forward.
Acting Deputy Director for Regulatory Affairs, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition
Senior Advisor for International Affairs, Office of Foods, Office of the Commissioner
U.S. Food and Drug Administration.