By Julie Moss, Ph.D., R.D., and Katherine Bond, Sc.D.
Our increasingly globalized world means that more and more of the food we eat is imported. Congress recognized this fact of modern life by passing the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), landmark legislation signed into law in 2011 that shifts the emphasis from responding to food safety incidents to preventing them.
In that spirit, Congress saw the importance of improving the capacity for food safety protections. It directed FDA to develop a comprehensive plan to expand the technical, scientific and regulatory food safety capacity of foreign governments and their respective food industries in countries that export foods to the United States.
FDA has met that challenge, recently releasing its International Food Safety Capacity-Building Plan, which provides a strategic framework intended to guide FDA’s capacity-building efforts over the next five years. FSMA marks the first time that Congress has charged FDA with comprehensively addressing the building of international food safety capacity, a development that has been very exciting for us.
While this mandate is new, we have successfully supported food safety capacity-building efforts and conducted training programs for many years. The agency has participated in global, multilateral food safety programs, including work with the World Health Organization, train-the-trainer programs (in areas such as good agriculture practices), various seminars and web postings, and collaborations with other U.S.government agencies, among other efforts. However, FSMA allows us to take this work to a whole new level.
For example, we are working with foreign governments to see if we can exchange more scientific and technical information, such as outbreak and inspection data. This will open up communication channels and promote collaboration with those governments. We are also working to support both the acceptance of laboratory methods across the international community as appropriate and the exchange of information on current and new laboratory methods. This helps ensure that the data obtained from different domestic and international laboratories is of good quality and can be easily compared.
We have developed a plan that incorporates many of FSMA’s main principles, including comprehensive prevention, risk-based resource allocation, and partnering. The plan’s key goals are:
- Goal 1: Ensure efficiency across the Foods and Veterinary Medicine Program
- Goal 2: Increase effectiveness through evidence-based decision making
- Goal 3: Support the exchange of information between FDA and other foreign government agencies or other entities
- Goal 4: Enhance technical assistance and capacity-building in food safety
Overall, the plan charts a direction for how we will prioritize our capacity-building efforts based on risk, how we will link capacity-building efforts to their impact on public health, and how we will work in partnership with counterpart authorities, industry and other organizations to achieve lasting food safety results. Through this plan, countries that export to the United States will have an opportunity to learn about our food safety capacity-building priorities and see the breadth of the efforts that we are pursuing.
In developing this plan, we consulted with foreign governments, industry, non-governmental organizations, certain U.S.officials, academia and other stakeholders. A public meeting was held on June 19, 2012, and comments received were considered in development of the plan [Docket No. FDA-2012-N-0437].
Given the breadth of this work, it is essential that we collaborate with partners to get the work done. We realize we can’t do it alone. Partnerships are important in everything we do, and even more so with capacity building. We also recognize the importance of establishing strong relationships and mutual support among all stakeholders from farm to table. As we begin to implement this new plan, we look forward to sharing ideas and new information with our international counterparts and other interested stakeholders, leveraging resources that will help us improve global food safety.
Julie Moss, Ph.D., R.D., is Deputy Director, International Affairs Staff in FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition
Katherine Bond, Sc.D., is Director, Office of Strategy, Partnerships and Analytics, in FDA’s Office of International Programs