Protecting Trade in Safe Food is a Global Concern

By: Sharon Mayl and Debbie Subera-Wiggin

Protecting consumers from contaminated foods is a global concern—as well as a key FDA priority. This was clear to us when we attended a World Trade Organization (WTO) conference in Geneva earlier this spring to provide outreach on FDA’s new food safety regulations.

Debbie Subera-Wiggin, left, and Sharon Mayl at the World Trade Organization meeting in Geneva.

Debbie Subera-Wiggin, left, and Sharon Mayl at the World Trade Organization meeting in Geneva.

This was the 65th meeting of the WTO’s Committee for Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS), an important body that provides a forum for the discussion of food safety and animal and plant health issues that affect the international food trade. While enhancing free trade is WTO’s focus, members understand the importance of facilitating trade in safe food products.

Working with the WTO Secretariat, the U.S. Mission in Geneva and the Office of the United States Trade Representative, we shared information about the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) rules that aim to help ensure the safety of foods exported to the United States. It was exciting to look out at the audience and see public health and trade officials from more than 33 countries and international organizations seeking to learn more about the new food safety regulations.

The United States has been a member of the WTO, which has 162 member nations and observer organizations, since 1995. Under the auspices of this SPS Committee, U.S. trade and regulatory agencies, including FDA, work with governments worldwide on trade issues related to food safety. Their work includes ensuring that the regulations of each nation support the rights and obligations of WTO agreements.

FDA incorporates these obligations into our regulatory process, specifically to ensure that our regulations are risk- and science-based, are created through a transparent process, and are equitable to both domestic and foreign producers, while protecting public health. The WTO SPS Committee is an ideal international venue for sharing information on FDA’s food safety rules.

Our job during this meeting was to share insights on three of the new FSMA rules — in particular, produce safety, foreign supplier verification programs, and accredited third-party certification.

We were very impressed by the interest that the countries’ representatives had in these rules. More than 50 representatives even skipped their lunch to participate in the outreach session and many returned that evening, after the main session closed, to continue the discussion!

WTO members are interested in understanding and meeting the regulatory requirements in FSMA rules so that they can continue to ship safe products to the U.S. Several of the participants expressed their government’s support for working cooperatively with us to strengthen food safety controls.

We left the outreach session with a better understanding that our trading partners are highly motivated to put mechanisms in place that will help their producers and manufacturers comply with the FSMA rules and contribute to robust trade partnerships.

Sharon Mayl, J.D., is a Senior Advisor for Policy in FDA’s Office of Food and Veterinary Medicine; Debbie Subera-Wiggin is a Consumer Safety Officer on the International Affairs Staff in FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

Strengthening Partnerships: FDA’s China Office Engages in Key Outreach with Chinese Provincial FDA, Academia, and Industry

By: S. Leigh Verbois, Ph.D.

独木不成林,单弦不成音

Dú mù bù chéng lín, dān xián bù chéng yīn

‘A single tree makes no forest, one string makes no music.’

“A single tree makes no forest, one string makes no music.”This old Chinese proverb inspired FDA’s China Office, as members of our staff embarked on a five-day trip to meet with provincial FDA regulators, industry, and academia in China’s Yangtze River Delta region.

FDA Staff with Zhejiang FDA

FDA Staff Meets with Zhejiang FDA
Hangzhou, China
Front Row, Left to Right: Gang Wang (FDA China Office), Bo Ju (Zhejiang FDA), Yuanchang Shao (Zhejiang FDA), Leigh Verbois (FDA China Office), Jue Chen (Zhejiang FDA), Chiang Syin (FDA China Office), William Sutton (CDRH),
Back Row, Left to Right: Jinfeng Liang (Zhejiang FDA), Wenhua Zheng (Zhejiang FDA), Yini Ye (Zhejiang FDA), Lixin Shen (Zhejiang FDA), Nicole Taylor Smith (FDA China Office), Lixia Wang (FDA China Office)

The Yangtze River Delta region is an economic area that encompasses the Shanghai municipality, Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces. The commercial epicenter, which accounts for 20 percent of China’s gross domestic product, is home to a significant number of FDA-regulated medical product manufacturers.

We traveled more than 3,300 kilometers (1,980 miles) to meet with key leaders and experts to strengthen partnerships, share information, and build the foundation for future cooperative engagement. Our first stop was Shanghai, where I had the great fortune to be able to address hundreds of students and faculty at East China University of Science and Technology’s School of Pharmacy and China Pharmaceutical University.

My message to the students was that they are the future leaders who will be in charge of the next generation of pharmaceutical innovation and data integrity.

In Shanghai, we also had the opportunity to sit down with U.S. Embassy Consul General Hanscom Smith to compare notes and to talk about current FDA priorities underway in the region.

China Pharmaceutical University (CPU)

China Pharmaceutical University (CPU)
Nanjing, China
CPU Faculty and Students attending Dr. Leigh Verbois’s Presentation on “CDER’s Novel Drug Approvals and Priorities”

The team then rode a high speed bullet train to Nanjing to meet with Jiangsu FDA, the regional regulator. This type of information sharing between the provincial FDA and the FDA China Office supports our shared mission of assuring that medical products produced in China meet U.S. safety standards.

On day three, we traveled again by bullet train to Suzhou where we partnered with China’s Association for Medical Device Industry to hold a two-hour, town hall meeting with almost 200 of China’s big device manufacturers that export products to the United States.

Working with FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH), our team provided information on Unique Device Identification (UDI) requirements. In the greater China region, it is estimated that there are nearly 4,000 medical device establishments affected by these requirements.

Hangzhou, China

Hangzhou, China
One of the many bridges in Hangzhou to symbolize “Building Bridges” between the FDA China Office and our Chinese stakeholders

The next morning, we headed for Hangzhou. After about two hours by train, we arrived in Hangzhou ready to meet with provincial FDA officials. Our meeting focused on specific ways we could collaborate on future medical device and drugs outreach, and more effectively share information.

The final day of our weeklong journey started with an industry roundtable focused on pharmaceuticals, held in partnership with Zhejiang FDA. As fellow regulators, we joined together to engage in substantive discussion with representatives from major manufacturers located in the Zhejiang, Jiangsu, and Shanghai regions, many of whom were interested in recent data integrity efforts in China. The FDA team then boarded our last train back to Shanghai for a final meeting with local officials that focused on our mutual priorities, as well as ways to expand and leverage efforts going forward.

The team flew back to Beijing feeling very satisfied that we accomplished much and clearer than ever that continued collaboration with Chinese regulators, industry and academia will help to ensure that medical products manufactured for the U.S. market are safe and effective. After all, one tree alone does not make a whole forest.

Leigh Verbois, Ph.D., is Director of FDA’s China Office in the Office of International Programs

Border Crossings: Working With Partners to Verify the Safety of Imported Produce

By: Michael R. Taylor

One of the vivid images that sticks with me from my tenure at FDA is of the port of entry at Nogales, Arizona. There, I saw large trucks from Mexico lined up as far as the eye could see, awaiting entry into the United States‎, many loaded full with fresh produce. I was told by our FDA team that, during the busy season, as many as 1,500 produce trucks enter the United States there daily, and Nogales isn’t even the busiest port of entry on the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border.

Michael R. TaylorThat visit to Nogales was in the early phase of our food safety modernization initiative at FDA‎, but it had a lasting effect on me. It drove home the degree of difficulty we would face in fulfilling the produce safety vision embodied in the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

With 50 percent of our fresh fruit and 20 percent of our vegetables coming from growers in other countries, the challenge was not only to establish produce safety rules that would be effective and workable across the hugely diverse produce sector, but also to verify with reasonable confidence that those standards are being met consistently, every day, regardless of where the produce is grown.

‎The FSMA produce ‎safety rule is now on the books, but implementation and the task of achieving and verifying compliance is just getting started. We know that success will take an enormous amount of education, training, and technical assistance to support the vast majority of farmers who will want to comply.

It will take a concerted effort by government and industry alike to verify that compliance is happening. And all of that demands active public-private collaboration and partnership to meet high consumer expectations.

‎‎Within the United States, this means working with our state government partners to build state produce safety programs that will provide our primary interface with U.S. growers on all aspects of produce safety. We will also work with growers and their customers to strengthen the reliability of private audits as a source of verification that can complement, but never replace, the essential role of government inspection.

‎But what about those 1,500 truckloads coming into Nogales daily from Mexican farms? How do we verify their compliance?

‎The answer is this: only by using every tool in our import tool kit‎, and, of course, by building partnerships.

‎I’m writing this while en route to Tubac, Arizona, for the annual Spring Policy Summit of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas (FPAA). FPAA represents those producing and trading fresh produce across the U.S.-Mexico border. For good business reasons, FPAA and its members focus heavily on ensuring the safety of that huge volume of food.

At this meeting, my colleagues and I will be discussing implementation of the foreign supplier verification program (FSVP) final rule, which places new responsibility on importers to ensure the safety of the food they import. This responsibility includes ensuring and verifying that their foreign suppliers use processes and procedures that meet U.S. safety standards. The result is that importers’ private verification efforts will help ensure the public health. At the same time, they are accountable to FDA.

FSVP is the regulatory linchpin of FSMA’s historic paradigm‎ shift for imported food from reaction at the border to accountability for prevention at the point of production. But Congress recognized that FSVP alone is not enough. FSMA also mandates that FDA conduct more foreign inspections and work more closely with foreign governments to ensure the safety of imported food.

‎So‎ also gathering in Tubac are our regulatory colleagues from the two Mexican agencies responsible for produce safety on the farm (SENASICA) and after the produce leaves the farm (COFEPRIS).

In 2014, we formed the US -Mexico Produce Safety Partnership, through which we are collaborating with our Mexican colleagues – much the way we do with our state partners – on education and technical assistance, inspection and compliance, and response to outbreaks. We’ll be reviewing our progress and discussing our challenges in a partnership working group meeting and sharing our government perspectives with FPAA, which has formed its own working group to collaborate with the government effort.‎

‎This degree of collaboration on food safety is unprecedented‎. But it is necessary because neither government nor industry alone can provide the level of verification FSMA envisions and consumers demand.

And it is possible because of the deep alignment of strategic interests ‎on food safety that exists among industry, government and consumers. We all have a huge stake in seeing that modern preventive practices are being used consistently to make produce safe. That is the foundation for real partnership. We all have different roles to play, but we all have the same goal.

‎That’s why we are gathering in Tubac. And, that’s why I’ll be traveling to Mexico City in April with Dr. Stephen Ostroff, my successor at FDA when I leave the agency in June, to work with our Mexican colleagues and the Mexican industry on FSMA implementation. That’s why we’re holding a public meeting in Washington today to discuss import safety with consumer, industry, and foreign stakeholders.

‎And it’s why hundreds of my FDA colleagues are working tirelessly with partners across the food system to prepare for FSMA implementation. I’m grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to work with so many people dedicated to food safety.  I think we are all fortunate that Steve Ostroff and other leaders across the food system have their hands on the helm.

And I am confident that we are on the way to success in fulfilling the FSMA vision, from the farms of Vermont and California to that line of trucks at Nogales.

Michael R. Taylor is FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine

A FSMA Update for our Stakeholders in India

By: Howard Sklamberg

Rice at India Spice Market

Deputy Commissioner Howard Sklamberg, Dr. Mathew Thomas, FDA India Office Country Director, and Ritu Nalubola, Ph.D., Senior Policy Advisor, Office of the Commissioner, observing different varieties of rice offered at a whole produce and spice market near Mumbai, India

In an effort to complement our conversations about the FDA Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA) in the United States, FDA is reaching out to our international partners and stakeholders to discuss implementation of this historic food safety law.

I recently visited India, accompanied by Andrew Stephens from the Office of Food and Veterinary Medicine, and Ritu Nalubola, Ph.D., with the Commissioner’s Office of Policy. We had extensive discussions with our regulatory counterparts in the Indian government and with key food industry officials.

Spice Market near Mumbai, India

A Mumbai spice wholesaler describing a range of spices available to Deputy Commissioner Howard Sklamberg and Dr. Mathew Thomas, FDA India Office Country Director, at a whole produce and spice market near Mumbai, India

India is the seventh largest supplier of food to the United States. The Indian food products that end up on the dinner tables of Americans every night — including shrimp, spices, and rice — reflect the increasing globalization of our country’s food supply.

Many of these goods come from any of India’s 29 states, produced by thousands of different companies. Such dispersion and volume makes FDA’s close engagement with our Indian counterparts necessary, especially on the export-related parts of FSMA.

Our most recent trip to India follows a similar trip in March 2015 when Mike Taylor, Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine, joined me to introduce FSMA to a wide variety of Indian stakeholders.

On that trip, we explained that FSMA mandates a food safety system that is preventive, rather than reactive. FSMA requires that foreign food producers meet U.S. safety standards.

A variety of spices in India

A selection of spice offerings at a whole produce and spice market near Mumbai, India

At that time, we also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the government of India to engage in regulatory, scientific, and public health protection matters related to food products.

Building upon our 2015 trip, and upon the great work of FDA’s India office, our recent meetings focused on three FSMA rules of vital significance to India stakeholders: Current Good Manufacturing Practice and Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Human Food; Foreign Supplier Verification Programs for Importers of Food for Humans and Animals; and Accreditation of Third-Party Certification Bodies To Conduct Food Safety Audits and To Issue Certifications. The overview my FDA team provided was very useful to our Indian counterparts, many of whom have been engaged with FDA’s India Office in learning the details of the new mandates for exporters.

Howard Sklamberg speaking at the World Spice Congress in India

Deputy Commissioner Howard Sklamberg delivering remarks on FDA’s final FSMA rules at the World Spice Congress in Ahmedabad, India

I finished my trip with remarks to the World Spice Congress. As I noted there, the food system grows more global and trade-driven every year, which means we grow more dependent every year on collaboration and real partnership between government and industry across national boundaries.

We all have three goals: We want food to be safe. We want consumers to have confidence. And we want food safety and consumer confidence to enhance trade between nations. FSMA will help us achieve all three.

Howard Sklamberg is FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Global Regulatory Operations and Policy

Strengthening our Regulatory Relationships in India

By: Mathew T. Thomas and Dean Rugnetta

India’s economic expansion is in part due to the tremendous growth in the pharmaceutical industry. The United States is a large consumer of medical products, and India is one of the largest suppliers of its drug products. And our important work together remains an FDA priority.

Investigator Daniel Roberts

Investigator Daniel Roberts (FDA India Office) and an Indian Regulator sharing inspectional approaches for current good manufacturing practices for pharmaceuticals during the workshop in Ahmedabad

We are working with our counterparts in the Indian government to ensure the medical products manufactured there, especially those for export to the U.S., meet FDA’s safety and quality requirements. FDA established an office in India in 2008, in part to promote government-to-government interactions like these and to keep pace with rapid developments and innovations in the pharmaceutical sector.

In November 2015, representatives from FDA’s India Office, our Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER), Office of Regulatory Affairs (ORA), and Office of International Programs (OIP), partnered with the India Government’s Central Drug Standards Control Organization (CDSCO), to share inspectional techniques and guidance for conducting current good manufacturing practices of pharmaceutical facilities.

Carmelo Rosa and Denise DeGiulio

Carmelo Rosa (CDER), Denise DiGiulio (CDER), and an Indian Regulator discuss Quality By Design guidance with the workshop participants in Ahmedabad

Training sessions were provided in two cities (Ahmedabad and Bengaluru) for about 200 Indian regulators representing CDSCO and some of the State drug control agencies. The training was an example of the cooperation by both agencies to increase knowledge and skills, thereby contributing to the health and welfare of citizens in both countries.

The collaboration resulted in representatives from both agencies learning more about the regulatory perspectives of the other – and doing so first-hand. It was clear from the interactions that the Indian inspectors had extensive knowledge of FDA and of the international techniques for conducting inspections. The FDA representatives at the sessions benefited from input regarding the differences between FDA and Indian legislation and regulations. And as new inspectors comprised the majority of attendees, there was the opportunity for learning on both sides.

FDA Workshop Team in India

FDA Workshop Team in Bangaluru. Front Row – Denise DiGiulio (CDER), Carmelo Rosa (CDER), Leslie Ball (Office of International Programs), Mathew Thomas (India Office), Thomas Cosgrove (CDER), Thomas Arista (ORA). Back Row: Shiva Prasad (India Office), Daniel Roberts (India Office), Solomon Yimam (India Office)

Senior officials from the Government of India attended both events and affirmed their goals of ensuring patient safety and of collaborating with FDA to make sure that products from India are safe and meet appropriate quality standards.

FDA and Government of India regulators will continue leveraging knowledge and strengths to ensure patient safety in India and product quality of FDA-regulated pharmaceuticals.

Mathew T. Thomas is the Director of FDA’s India Office in New Delhi, India

Dean Rugnetta is the Deputy Director in FDA’s India Office in New Delhi, India

A Closer Look at Tea and Rice: FDA Brings FSMA Outreach to Japan

By: Camille Brewer, M.S., R.D., and Sema Hashemi, M.S.

Our delegation of FDA experts traveled to Tokyo and Osaka in the first week of February to hold seminars on our new final rules under the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). These rules will require that foods exported to the United States be produced in a manner that provides the same level of public health protection as that required of U.S. food producers.

FSMA outreach delegation and Ambassador Caroline Kennedy

The FSMA outreach delegation met with Ambassador Caroline Kennedy (center). The delegation members (from left) are: Sema Hashemi, Jess Paulson (from the U.S. Department of Agriculture), Jenny Scott, Samir Assar, Bruce Ross, Camille Brewer, Jeffrey Read, and Brian Pendleton.

We were delighted to see first-hand how receptive the Japanese government and industry have been, both in embracing FSMA’s principles and in bringing a more intense focus on preventive controls and supply chain management. Exports of agricultural, as well as fish and fishery products, to the United States are at a record high. The U.S. is Japan’s second highest export market, and key exports include rice, tea, soy products, confectionary and specialty products. The Japanese food industry is keenly interested in increasing exports to the U.S. and representatives expressed a strong commitment to fostering an understanding of and compliance with our food safety regulations. Throughout our visit, we were reminded of the important link between market growth and maintaining a strong reputation for safe exports.

Interest in FSMA is high. Public seminars in Tokyo and Osaka drew nearly 400 and 200 participants, respectively, our largest FSMA international outreach audiences to date. As a reference document for participants, the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) prepared a 315-page manual with translations of key FSMA regulations and FDA presentations for each participant.

JETRO, a government-related organization, has facilitated and delivered numerous informational programs for industry on FSMA since the passage of the law. During our outreach meeting, JETRO also delivered a one-hour FSMA overview, which effectively set the stage for more detailed FDA presentations that followed. These proactive efforts achieved a much greater understanding among participants and more productive interactions during our limited time together.

Our meetings with Japanese government colleagues in the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (MAFF), as well as the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare (MHLW), allowed us to take a step back and discuss ways in which the our governments can work collaboratively to promote food safety. It was clear to us that these ministries are very eager to collaborate closely with FDA to help ensure that Japan’s food exports to the U.S. meet FSMA’s high standards of safety for food production. We are looking forward to further discussions with our Japanese colleagues as FSMA implementation continues.

Our delegation received many thoughtful and detailed questions on how FSMA would apply to Japan’s food exports to the U.S., particularly to green tea and rice — as two foods particularly important to Japanese identity and tradition. Indeed, our delegation learned a great deal about the various steps in the production of both commodities. FDA and the Japanese ministries all committed to exchange more detailed information on traditional production methods for these commodities. They represent valuable case studies on how FSMA operates to ensure prevention-based oversight of the entire food supply chain, including those unique to a culture or community.

U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy graciously set aside some time to discuss FSMA international outreach activities and food safety issues with our delegation. She was very pleased to hear of Japan’s detailed preparations for these FSMA seminars and the goodwill shown to FDA’s delegation. Ambassador Kennedy stressed the importance of the relationship between the United States and Japan in the area of agricultural trade, agreeing that future dialogue on FSMA would only serve to strengthen these close ties.

We leave Japan with many fond memories of the warmth and hospitality provided by our Japanese hosts. They honored us not only with their kindness but also with the meticulous preparation and education on FSMA that we could see had taken place in advance of our arrival. We move forward more confident than ever in Japan’s strong commitment to food safety and to ensuring that foods exported to the United States will be produced under the effective prevention-based systems that FSMA envisions for food supply chains around the world.

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

Sema Hashemi, M.S., is Director of the Office of Regional and Country Affairs within FDA’s Office of International Programs

FSMA Implementation: The Road Is Challenging, but the Company Is Extraordinary

By: Michael R. Taylor

As we begin 2016, it’s a good time to reflect on the extraordinary engagement we’ve had on food safety with the food-producing community and its continuing impact as we move forward to implement the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

Michael R. TaylorIn August and September 2013, we took three important trips – to the Pacific Northwest, New England and Europe – to talk about the rules we had proposed earlier that year to implement FSMA.

What we learned on those trips made a huge impression, one that ultimately shaped more than just the rules. It had a profound effect on our understanding of the diverse global community of food producers, and opened our eyes to the food safety imperative that guides them.

More recently, we retraced our steps this November and December, making those journeys again to discuss the five FSMA rules that became final this fall — establishing preventive controls for human and animal food, setting produce safety standards, and strengthening oversight of imported foods.

First, some background. We had been traveling to farms since 2009, well before FSMA was signed into law in 2011, listening to and learning from farmers. The visits in 2013 were particularly important because FSMA had become law by then and we had specific proposals to discuss.

In the Pacific Northwest and New England, we focused on issues as different as the climate and geography of those regions. Growers who created lush farmland in the high desert regions of Idaho, Oregon and Washington using canal-fed irrigation systems were chiefly concerned about the agricultural water standards. In Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire, discussions centered on the impact of FDA’s plans on the local food movement and on farmers’ efforts to innovate and diversify.

There was a common theme, however: Growers have been understandably concerned about where we’re headed with these food safety regulations and how they will affect farms, especially those that have been in families for generations. So in 2013, with specifics on the table, there were some tough conversations about the merits of our proposals – and how they could be improved. In Europe, our discussions were primarily with our foreign regulatory counterparts, but also reflected uneasiness about the FSMA rules, particularly their impact on foreign trade.

The bottom line is that through these trips, our eyes were indeed opened to some realities. It became clear that we’d need to make changes for the regulations to work for the food industry while still protecting public health.

Fast forward to 2015. We saw familiar faces in our return to the Pacific Northwest and New England for public meetings in Portland, Oregon, on December 1, and in Brattleboro, Vermont, on December 14. These are people who were frank about their reservations and then rolled up their sleeves to work with us on finding solutions. And we did find solutions, building flexibility into the rules that give food producers and importers options and alternatives that still meet important safety criteria.

And in Europe, too, the conversation has turned to next steps. In early December we returned to Brussels and again met with our European Union regulatory counterparts. Europe has similar overarching food safety principles as the U.S. and the leaders we met want to leverage their resources and avoid duplication of effort. And we are looking into that now, beginning by comparing the public health protections in the European standards with those built into the FSMA rules.

The reception was enormously positive in all three places. We’re in a good place with the FSMA rules. Five of the seven rules we proposed have now been finalized, and we intend to publish final regulations on sanitary transportation and intentional adulteration in the spring. President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2016 budget request for FSMA implementation was close to fully funded, with FDA set to receive $104.5 million of the $109.5 million requested. This critical funding will enable us to maintain our momentum toward timely, comprehensive implementation.

We at FDA are gratified and grateful for what we’ve seen since we first took to the road in 2009. It’s clear that from the smallest farm to the halls of Congress, from local food centers to operations half-way around the world, there is a deep, shared commitment to produce safe food.

Without any doubt, there’s still a lot of hard work to be done, and we know some food producers are still apprehensive about the impact of our regulations on their livelihood. So, we will hit the road again beginning in January for more state and international meetings. We are committed to continuing the conversation and implementing FSMA in a practical way. Working together, we will create the modern food safety system envisioned by FSMA, one that makes every reasonable effort to prevent food safety problems and protect consumers and their families from foodborne illness.

Michael R. Taylor is FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine

Lessons Learned in Mexico about Food Safety – And Tomatoes

By: Stephen M. Ostroff, M.D.

En Español

As my colleagues at FDA can attest, I like to grow tomatoes in the summer. I often bring portions of the harvest to the office each week of the growing season. Though the total volume is modest, I still like to think of myself as an environmentally conscious and responsible “farmer.”

Group photo of FDA and Mexico Officials and Tomato Growers

From left to right:
Rafael Ávila Julio Mexico-SENASICA-Branch Chief)
Joaquín Rivera Quiroz (Mexico-SENASICA-International Affairs)
SENASICA staff member
Edmundo Garcia (FDA-Regional Director for Latin America)
Mary Lou Valdez (FDA-Associate Commissioner for International Programs)
Stephen Ostroff (FDA- Acting Commissioner)
Sandra Cruz (FDA- Assistant Regional Director for Latin America)
Silvia Rojas Villegas ( Mexico- SENASICA- Director for Food Safety, Aquaculture, and Fisheries)
Jorge Martínez Lambarry (Mexico- General Director Binatur Invernaderos)
Angel Covarrubias Domínguez (Mexico – SENASICA’s staff)
Selma Koekoek (Food Safety Manager – Binatur Invernaderos).

So I was glad to spend some time on food safety issues last month while in Mexico attending the 10th International Summit of Heads of Medicines Regulatory Agencies. In addition to summit activities, I spent time with FDA staff in our Latin America Office and with our regulatory counterparts in Mexico charged with keeping foods safe. In the process, I gained a new appreciation for the partnership we have with Mexico to enhance food safety and to minimize the potential for contamination of fresh produce.

Which brings me back to tomatoes.

Representatives of the Mexican National Service for Agro-Alimentary Public Health, Safety and Quality (SENASICA) accompanied me and other FDA staff on a tour of Bionatur Invernaderos de Mexico, a state-of-the-art tomato-growing operation located in Jocotitlan Estado de Mexico, about 75 miles outside of Mexico City.

While most people think of growing tomatoes as an activity that requires soil, tomatoes can also grow using an alternative substrate and the addition of water, sunshine, and nutrient solutions. Bionatur Inveraderos is among the largest users of this technology, known as hydroponics, in the world. It’s an enormous, state-of-the-art operation, with eight 25-acre greenhouses on the 200-acre farm. And the results are very impressive, with row after row of enormous plants that dwarf my back-deck efforts.

Hydroponic tomatoes

Rows of tomatoes at Bionatur Invernaderos de Mexico, a state-of-the-art tomato-growing operation located in Jocotitlan Estado de Mexico, about 75 miles outside of Mexico City.

For me, there’s a real value to FDA visiting farms of all kinds to see first-hand the importance growers place on producing safe fruits and vegetables and the pride they have in their work, no matter what the size of the operation. Just as in the United States, produce is grown on all different kinds of farms in Mexico, from those using the latest technology to traditional operations that have been in hard-working families for generations. What the U.S. and Mexico also have in common is our mutual commitment to the safety of produce grown on our nations’ farms, which is especially important as the food supply continues to become more global.

For example, while the United States is a leading producer of tomatoes, Mexico is currently the 10th largest in the world. And in the last decade, tomato trade between the U.S. and Mexico has grown considerably — and is likely to continue to expand as global supply chains further diversify.

In light of these trends, assuring the safety of these imports is paramount. That’s why we work closely with our Mexican food safety counterparts: SENASICA and the Federal Commission for the Protection of Sanitary Risk (also known as COFEPRIS). Last year, our three agencies signed The Produce Safety Partnership, which specifically aims to promote the safety of fresh and minimally processed agricultural products in both countries.

SENASICA has a voluntary Risk Reduction System for Contamination (SRRC) program to ensure that fruits and vegetables grown in Mexico are produced in optimal sanitary conditions to reduce the risk of contamination.

Food safety requires everyone’s participation — including farms, facilities, regulatory agencies, and consumers. As we implement the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), we are working closely with our Mexican regulatory counterparts, as well as other nations and international stakeholders, to make sure that they have the understanding, information, and training necessary to meet these important new food safety standards.

FDA’s Latin America Office, with staff located in San Jose, Costa Rica; Santiago, Chile; and Mexico City, will be instrumental in this FSMA outreach as we rely heavily on the Latin American region to ensure the availability of fresh produce year round.

Two FSMA rules that became final this month are particularly important to Mexican farmers growing produce destined for American consumers. The Produce Safety rule establishes science-based safety standards for both domestic produce farms and those in other countries that export to the U.S. And the Foreign Supplier Verification Programs (FSVP) rule requires importers to ensure that their foreign suppliers meet U. S. safety standards.

It is clear to me that Mexico also shares another quality with the U.S. and other nations: It has the academic capital and capacity to engage in both high tech and traditional farming, and to successfully meet these new safety standards designed to prevent foodborne illness.

While there are differences in our systems, technologies, and environments, the U.S. and Mexico both want consumers to be confident in the safety of their food. By working together, we can achieve that goal.

Stephen M. Ostroff, M.D., is Acting Commissioner of Food and Drugs

A Mother’s Loss, an Advocate’s Example, Fuel Our Mission to Keep Foods Safe

By: Michael R. Taylor

For the many people in government, and elsewhere, who have been working on implementation of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), this has been a week for reflection, celebration, and anticipation. I got to experience all three in the 24 hours I spent this week at the 2015 Food Safety Consortium in Schaumberg, Illinois.

Michael R. TaylorTuesday night I joined the many friends and supporters of the public health organization STOP Foodborne Illness in honoring Nancy Donley for her 22 years of ‎relentless advocacy for improving food safety. She is driven by the memory of her 6-year-old son Alex, who suffered greatly before he died in 1993 after eating a hamburger contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.

This was a time for reflection. Nancy and the many others in the STOP network who have shared their excruciating stories of pain and loss have made it simply unacceptable for those producing food to do anything less than their best to prevent these tragedies from happening.

Nancy, as much as any single person, has catalyzed fundamental change in our food safety culture toward making food safety a central business value for food companies and shifting government oversight toward a model that ensures accountability for minimizing contamination by pathogens.

Nancy has inspired me and many others to see food safety as the deeply personal, primary value it is, and to act accordingly.‎

STOP also honored Walmart’s Frank Yiannas as a STOP Food Safety Hero for his pioneering work to define and instill food safety culture as a primary value in the food industry.

Reflections on Nancy’s and Frank’s contributions are the backdrop for a bit of celebration. Not because the culture change Nancy inspires and the food safety success we seek are complete — far from it. But we are on our way.

The three FSMA rules FDA issued last week to improve produce safety and strengthen oversight of imports, coupled with the preventive controls rules we finalized in September, create a powerful and comprehensive new framework for the prevention of foodborne illness. This framework will be completed next year with final rules on food transport and intentional adulteration. The rules are the product of enormous effort by teams of FDA experts and by the many government, industry and consumer partners whose input has been so important in shaping the rules.

At the conference Wednesday morning, I shared some of these reflections and the sense of celebration and gratitude we are experiencing at FDA. I got some positive nods and no push back, but it was clear that the food safety professionals at this gathering are focused on the future, anticipating the challenges and changes FSMA will bring.

So are we at FDA. We see challenges galore, but also a huge opportunity to fulfill a vision that Nancy and STOP rightfully insist be the guide for our food safety work and our food safety culture.

Food safety is a primary value for many in the food system. It must be so for all.

Science-based prevention is the organizing principle for many food production systems. It must be for all. 

And a spirit of common cause and collaboration on food safety, which has begun to take root in so many positive ways, must be the foundation for all the work ahead to successfully implement FSMA.

So, this week, let’s celebrate where we are as we anticipate and build the future.

Michael R. Taylor is FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine

Forging the Path Forward toward Global Food Safety

By: Camille Brewer, M.S., R.D., Donald Prater, D.V.M., and Leigh Verbois, Ph.D.

Camille Brewer

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

These are exciting times for global food safety. In the last few years, China, Europe and the United States – three countries and regions of the world with complex food systems – have begun adopting sweeping modernization of their food safety laws and regulations. This is significant given these three countries together provide nearly half of the world’s foods!

China, Europe and the United States have a long history of partnering to help make sure that the food traded between us meets the robust food safety standards our consumers expect.

For many years, we’ve held regular meetings under our agreements with one another to talk through important issues affecting the safe production of both domestically consumed and internationally traded food.

Donald Prater

Donald Prater, D.V.M., Director of the Europe Office in the FDA’s Office of International Programs.

We’ve also worked together for decades in venues like the Codex Alimentarius Commission to set global standards for food safety. Up until now, discussions between us have largely happened with only two of our three governments in the room.

On November 2, our three countries and regions met in Beijing to take this cooperation to the next level within our more globalized food safety system. We discussed ways the three of us will work together as a group to improve the safety of the food products our countries manufacture and trade.

Leigh Verbois

Leigh Verbois, Ph.D., Director of the China Office in FDA’s Office of International Programs.

Our countries recognize that by gaining deeper knowledge about each other’s food safety systems and sharing timely information for better regulatory decisions and actions, we can move closer to the reality of global regulatory cooperation and alignment. We can also increase our confidence in the food we feed our families, whether it is produced in the United States, the European Union or China.

In the United States, the FDA recently rolled out the first two final rules to implement the landmark FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) of 2011, and will release additional final rules this month.

In 2015, China updated its China Food Safety Law of 2009 to better clarify regulatory responsibility, increase penalties for the adulteration of food making it unsafe to eat, emphasize industry accountability, and improve traceability of food supply chains. In 2014, the European Union rolled out Smarter Rules for Safer Food, regulations that streamline the legal framework for food safety.

Trilateral Meeting

Participants representing the U.S., China, and Europe meet to discuss how the three countries and regions will collaborate and cooperate to improve food safety.

With China, the EU and the United States in agreement on our food safety collaboration, we will begin taking action! A first step is setting a meaningful agenda for a meeting before the summer of 2016.

We will be engaging food safety experts and focusing on closer cooperation through technical and scientific exchanges or workshops. These workshops will bring together experts to discuss food safety challenges.

Trilateral handshake photo

From L-R: Mr. Michael Scannell, Director of Food & Veterinary Office, Directorate-General Health and Food Safety-European Commission; Dr. Leigh Verbois, Director of the China Office, United States Food and Drug Administration; and Mr. BI Kexin, Deputy Director-General for Import and Export Food Safety Bureau (AQSIQ) – People’s Republic of China, shake hands at the conclusion of the meeting.

Among the many topics to consider are our respective new food safety laws and regulations, approaches to preventing food safety hazards during manufacturing, and the importance of recordkeeping.

Through collaboration with our Chinese and European colleagues, the FDA will develop a better understanding of our various approaches to keeping food safe.

This type of common understanding is essential in our increasingly globalized world since food safety knows no borders.

 

 

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

Donald Prater, D.V.M., is Director of the Europe Office in the FDA’s Office of International Programs

Leigh Verbois, Ph.D., is the Director of the China Office in FDA’s Office of International Programs