By: Michael R. Taylor
Food safety is an issue that crosses borders. The reality of this global marketplace is that consumers, industry and governments worldwide are in this together.
With that in mind, my team and I traveled to Mexico City on Oct. 29, 30 and 31 to discuss the rules that FDA has proposed this year to help ensure the safety of both domestic and imported foods.
We said at the beginning of our efforts to implement the 2011 FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) that we would send FDA delegations to Canada, Mexico, Europe and China to strengthen partnerships with officials there to help accomplish our safety goals. Working with our government partners in the U.S. and abroad is important in making sure that implementation is successful. This trip was the last of these journeys, and it was a great experience.
Why is a partnership with Mexico important? Because it is one of the United States’ top trading partners. A lot of the produce we eat in the U.S. is grown there, including fruits and vegetables that would otherwise be hard to find in the winter months.
What we learned in meetings with SENASICA and COFEPRIS – two key food safety agencies in the Mexican government – is that we’re all on the same page when it comes to food safety. We share with Enrique Sanchez Cruz, director general of SENASICA, Mikel Arriola, federal commissioner of COFEPRIS, and their able staffs a commitment to protect our citizens from the contaminated foods that cause so many preventable illnesses each year.
And there is much we can do to help each other. For example, our counterparts in Mexico have a great deal of data to share based on microbiological sampling of foods and inspections. And, like us, they base their food-safety priorities on risk: What are the greatest potential hazards? We came away with a much deeper understanding of their work in this area.
One of the key messages we got from our Mexican colleagues was that they are eager and committed to working with us to implement FSMA, and this motivates us to take our partnership to a new level. The benefits will be mutual, as FSMA and Mexico’s own food safety initiatives promise to elevate standards and improve practices on both sides of the border.
At a public listening session on our FSMA proposals attended by representatives of major commodity groups, the sentiments were much the same. They want to be engaged with us in this important work.
We envision partnerships with our foreign counterparts as being multi-faceted, including data sharing, recognition of inspection reports, multilateral sharing and acceptance of laboratory methods, and training of government and industry on U.S. food safety requirements, and where appropriate, cooperating under trade agreements.
We know food safety is more a journey than a destination, and the road we are on with Mexico will have its bumps and seem long at times. But, thankfully, we are on the road together, and we will get there.
Michael R. Taylor is FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine