FDA and Asia-Pacific Colleagues Focus on Food Safety

By: Camille Brewer, M.S., R.D., and Christopher Hickey, Ph.D.

In the alphabet soup of international affairs— UN, NATO, WTO— APEC is perhaps one of the lesser-known entities. In FDA’s world, APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation), which focuses on facilitating economic growth, cooperation, trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific region, is a significant focus of collaboration in the area of food safety.

Camille Brewer

Camille Brewer, M.S., R.D., Director of International Affairs at FDA’s Office of Foods and Veterinary Medicine.

Food safety is one of the priority areas for APEC, as evidenced by the establishment of the Food Safety Cooperation Forum (FSCF), which has been co-chaired by China and Australia since the forum was formally established in April 2007. FSCF was founded to bring together APEC’s 21 member economies to make the region’s food standards consistent with those of the international food standards body (Codex Alimentarius Commission) – all for the ultimate purpose of improving public health while facilitating trade. (The word “economies,” rather than “nations,” is used to describe APEC members because of their focus on trade and economic issues.)

In September, FDA joined colleagues for APEC food safety meetings in Beijing. Because of the importance of building the capacity for food safety protections in China and the region, China hosted a “Special Session” of FSCF to consider progress from technical working groups on export certificates and maximum residue limits of pesticide in food products. There was also a meeting called the “High-Level Regulator Industry Dialogue” to spotlight numerous cooperative ventures between the private and public sectors. This overview of APEC projects gave us a sense of how well the regions’ economies function together.

Christopher Hickey

Christopher Hickey, Ph.D., FDA’s Country Director for the People’s Republic of China.

While FSCF aims to support dialogue among regulators, many of APEC’s food safety initiatives are built on collaboration with government, industry and academia. At the High-Level Regulator-Industry Dialogue session, the group discussed how working with partners is enhancing food safety by leveraging the benefits of our shared work. FDA talked about how the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) creates new tools to prevent food safety problems, and how FDA’s foreign offices are working with fellow regulators to bolster a coordinated approach.  It was especially heartening to see China present its challenges in the area of food safety as an opportunity to lead development of deeper food safety capacity in the APEC region.

The central role of partnerships was a predominant theme throughout, and when Pam Bailey, CEO and president of the Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA), addressed participants, she implored delegates to “work together to create conduits for the private sector to interface with governments as they develop newfound safety regimes.”  Bailey highlighted the U.S. notice and comment rule-making process, and noted GMA’s proactive engagement in this process. She emphasized the transparency of the U.S. system, and spoke of GMA’s active engagement to provide constructive feedback on the rules that FDA has proposed to implement FSMA. The importance of transparency in regulatory operations was a message repeated by all representatives from private and public sectors.

Camille Brewer

Camille Brewer, M.S., R.D., at the APEC food safety meetings in Beijing.

There is exceptional collaborative work taking place. The value of these partnerships was evident in technical sessions of the meetings, which covered best practices in laboratory proficiency testing, pilot projects on export certificates in the wine industry, and the convergence of approaches to regulate maximum residue limits for pesticides in wine grapes. It was exciting for us to hear constructive proposals from both developing and developed countries, industry and academia, each with a vital role to play in addressing the challenges of a globalized food safety system. The candid exchange of views is a recipe for success.

Camille Brewer, M.S., R.D., is Director of International Affairs at FDA’s Office of Foods and Veterinary Medicine.

Christopher Hickey, Ph.D., is FDA’s Country Director for the People’s Republic of China.

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