By: Stephen Ostroff, M.D.
The promises embodied in the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) add up to this: The foods that we eat and serve our families must be as safe as we can make them.
These promises mandate that food be produced, packed and transported with an awareness of potential hazards and a commitment to taking whatever systematic steps are necessary to eliminate or greatly reduce any risks. They envision a world in which families can share foods produced halfway around the world, knowing that they are held to the same rigorous safety standards as those produced in the United States.
The past nine months have seen the finalization of the seven rules that make FSMA’s promises a reality – for both domestic and imported foods. The last of those rules, one that adds protections against intentional adulteration, became final on May 27. Together, and individually, these rules represent a paradigm shift from simply responding to outbreaks of foodborne illness to preventing them from happening in the first place.
There’s a lot of work to be done in the implementation phase. But even as we look forward, it’s important to recognize that getting to this point with rules that are final is a spectacular achievement, and that many deserve the credit.
Members of Congress joined together to pass FSMA in 2010 because of widespread concern over multistate outbreaks, and lawmakers like Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas and Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut have been unwavering in their support since then. Consumers, such as activists in STOP Foodborne Illness, who became sick themselves or who lost loved ones to contaminated food, put their sorrow aside and became champions for the greater good. Public policy organizations like the Pew Charitable Trusts have been steadfast partners throughout the rulemaking and budget processes.
The food industry mobilized to help FDA find the most effective, practical ways to implement these regulations. We worked with national associations that include the Grocery Manufacturers Association and groups with a more regional focus, such as the New England Farmers Union. Farmers, manufacturers, distributors, retailers and many others whose livelihood is directly affected by these rules brought their concerns to the table and worked with us to make the rules as feasible as possible.
We found dedicated partners in other government agencies at the federal, state and international levels. Leanne Skelton of the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been part of the FDA team. The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture is playing an important role in helping FDA meet the challenges of implementing the produce safety rule. State agriculture leaders like Chuck Ross in Vermont, Katy Coba in Oregon and Steve Troxler in North Carolina became a bridge between FDA and the food producers in their states. Our regulatory counterparts in other nations, such as SENASICA and COFEPRIS in Mexico, have joined the fight to increase food protections worldwide.
The people of FDA, under the leadership of Michael R. Taylor, worked tirelessly to find the right intersection between science and policy; to develop innovative and practical solutions to complex challenges; and, to engage in open and meaningful discussions with the many communities within the diverse food supply system. I recently succeeded Mike as deputy commissioner, and I want to acknowledge the importance of his dedication to public health and food safety.
The FDA teams who drafted and revised the rules worked in tandem with teams laying the groundwork for eventual implementation. They have traveled the nation, and the world, to meet with food producers and government officials. They have worked 24/7 on these rules since FSMA became law.
The road ahead towards full implementation of FSMA is a long one. There are miles to go, but thanks to the commitment and hard work of all those who are making this journey, we will keep the promises of FSMA.
Stephen Ostroff, M.D., is FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine