Partnerships Are the Key to Keeping Foods Safe Worldwide

By: Michael R. Taylor

The success or failure of our efforts to keep foods safe all over the world rests on the strength of our global partnerships and the work we can do together to verify that food safety standards are being met. That’s why, today, after two days of meetings in Beijing with Chinese regulators, I am speaking at the China International Food Safety and Quality Conference and Expo in Shanghai about meeting the food safety challenges that all nations face.

Mike Taylor speaks in China

Deputy FDA Commissioner Michael R. Taylor giving the keynote address at the China International Food Safety and Quality Conference and Expo.

No matter where we live, we all want to feed our families with the confidence that the foods we are enjoying are safe to eat. Food safety is thus a goal that transcends international borders, and the food supply has never been so global. In the United States, 15 percent of our food supply is imported from other countries, including nearly 50 percent of fresh fruit and 20 percent of fresh vegetables. And last year, the U.S. exported a record $136 billion in foods, feed and beverages.

Congress recognized this when it enacted the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and established a new regulatory paradigm for food safety, drawing on widely accepted international practices. The paradigm is simple. No matter where food comes from, we will achieve the best food safety results if we define—in workable, science-based standards—the approaches to managing food safety systems that we know are effective in preventing food safety problems AND if we achieve high rates of compliance with those standards.

Verification is key to the success of the FSMA paradigm and our global understanding of how to make food safe. It is also key to the consumer confidence that makes robust trade in food possible. Verification begins with what food producers do in their operations to verify, on an ongoing basis, that they are successfully implementing proper controls to prevent safety problems. But verification is also a public responsibility and a challenge that all nations face in our global food system.

FDA Staff at China Event

From left, Christopher Hickey, director of FDA’s China offices, Deputy Commissioner Michael Taylor and Roberta Wagner, co-chair of FDA’s FSMA Operations Team Steering Committee, visiting the China Food and Drug Administration.

Domestically, we will use inspections and other means, including sampling and testing, to verify that private food safety management systems are working effectively to prevent problems. This is a shift from our historic focus on enforcement of adulteration standards, although we will continue to act swiftly and forcefully when violations are putting consumers at risk.

In FDA’s oversight of imported foods, FSMA’s new Foreign Supplier Verification Programs (FSVP) will make importers accountable to FDA for documenting that their foreign suppliers have taken preventive measures to help ensure the safety of their food products. And we will inspect importers to verify that they are doing their job with regard to FSVP.

But we know that is not enough. Congress also mandated that we work more closely with foreign governments to verify that food safety standards are being met, so we are investing heavily in new forms of partnership with major trading partners with the goal of relying on each other’s verification activities as an element of the overall assurance system.

A prime example and model for collaboration is our joint initiative with Mexico to build a full operational partnership on produce safety, based on a strongly shared commitment to food safety as a public health goal. We are working directly with SENASICA and COFEPRIS – the agencies in Mexico that are responsible for produce safety – to expand the sharing of information, personnel and best practices, and to improve laboratory and other technical harmonization. Our goal is mutual reliance on each other’s oversight work. This initiative includes an important public-private partnership component.

Another model for building verification partnerships is our pursuit of what we call “systems recognition agreements” with countries whose overall food safety systems are comparable to ours. We have one with New Zealand and are working on agreements with Canada and Australia.

We also believe that being present in foreign countries is important to our own verification work and to building partnerships with foreign governments. That’s why we have increased our foreign inspections and have FDA offices in China, India, Europe, and Latin America. China, with its size and complexity, poses unique challenges as we seek to build food safety partnerships, so we are working to increase our China-based staff as a way to improve verification and foster mutual understanding and confidence.

The challenge of implementing the FSMA food safety paradigm on a global scale is huge, but I’m convinced from all the dialogue we’ve had around the world that we are on the right track. We have a long way to go, of course, but I have no doubt we’ll get there with the continued collaboration and commitment of our trading partners.

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

Getting it Right on Spent Grains

By: Michael R. Taylor

Since the March 31 close of the comment period on FDA’s proposed animal feed rule, we’ve received a lot of questions and comments about so-called spent grains. Spent grains are by-products of alcoholic beverage brewing and distilling that are very commonly used as animal feed.

Michael TaylorTo add to the picture, spent brewer and distiller grains are just a subset of the much broader practice of human food manufacturers sending their peels, trimmings, and other edible by-products to local farmers or feed manufacturers for animal feed uses rather than to landfills. One industry estimate is that 70 percent of human food by-product becomes food for animals.

We’ve heard from trade groups and members of Congress, as well as individual breweries raising concerns that FDA might disrupt or even eliminate this practice by making brewers, distillers, and food manufacturers comply not only with human food safety requirements but also additional, redundant animal feed standards that would impose costs without adding value for food or feed safety.

That, of course, would not make common sense, and we’re not going to do it.

In fact, we agree with those in industry and the sustainability community that the recycling of human food by-products to animal feed contributes substantially to the efficiency and sustainability of our food system and is thus a good thing. We have no intention to discourage or disrupt it.

We also believe the potential for any animal safety hazard to result from this practice is minimal, provided the food manufacturer takes common sense steps to minimize the possibility of glass, motor oil or other similar hazards being inadvertently introduced, such as if scraps for animal feed were held in the same dumpster used for floor sweepings and industrial waste.

We understand how the language we used in our proposed rule could lead to the misperception that we are proposing to require human food manufacturers to establish separate animal feed safety plans and controls to cover their by-products, but it was never our intent to do so. In fact, we invited comment on practical ways to address by-products in keeping with their minimal potential risk.

We will take the necessary steps to clarify our intent in the rules themselves so there can be no confusion. As we previously announced, this summer we plan to issue revised proposals for comment on several key FSMA issues and we will include changes consistent with the points I’ve outlined in this blog.

Our door at FDA has been wide open to stakeholders at every step of the FSMA process. We have learned a lot through active, two-way dialogue with those who have concerns about what we propose or ideas about how we can achieve our food safety goals in the most practical way. We hope and fully expect that dialogue to continue.

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

FDA Uses New Authorities To Get OxyElite Pro Off the Market

By: Daniel Fabricant, Ph.D. 

As the head of the office that oversees dietary supplements, it is my responsibility to ensure that the dietary supplement products on the market — which are used by more than 180 million Americans daily — do not cause harm.

This is not an easy job because FDA’s authority to regulate dietary supplements is very different from the agency’s authority to regulate drugs and medical devices prior to their marketing. Adding to the challenge is the fact that there are more than 85,000 dietary supplement products and no requirement for product registration.

Just recently we had a case that illustrates both the limits of FDA’s authority to regulate supplements and the promise of new enforcement tools provided by the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Dozens of people were suffering acute liver failure or non-viral hepatitis so severe that several needed liver transplants, and one died. These people, by and large, had been healthy.

The illnesses were linked to certain OxyElite Pro dietary supplement products made by Texas-based USPLabs. Certain OxyElite Pro products and a second product, VERSA-1, contain a new dietary ingredient that has not been shown to be safe for use by consumers. This ingredient, aegeline, is a synthetic version of an alkaloid that exists, in natural form, in a tree that grows in parts of Asia.

This is the second time in little more than a year that USPLabs has produced supplements containing a new dietary ingredient that lack a history of use or other evidence of safety. In the previous case, the company added a stimulant called DMAA (dimethylamylamine) to OxyElite Pro and to a similar product, Jack3D. We were alerted to the addition of DMAA through more than 100 reports of illness, including six deaths, among people who used the products.

Consumers may look at a capsule or tablet, the forms in which many supplements are sold, and not realize our limitations in regulating dietary supplements. In October 1994, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act expressly made supplement manufacturers responsible for ensuring that their products are safe. Under this law, manufacturers do not need FDA approval before selling dietary supplements. The burden is generally on FDA to prove that a supplement is unsafe before any actions can be taken to restrict its use or remove it from the market.

The law made an exception for “new dietary ingredients” (i.e., dietary ingredients not marketed in the United States before Oct. 15, 1994). Before supplements containing these new dietary ingredients – vitamins, minerals, herbs and other substances – can be sold, a manufacturer or distributor must provide FDA with information establishing their safety when used under the conditions recommended or suggested in the product labeling. USPLabs should have informed FDA of its plans to add aegeline to its dietary supplements, and it should have established the safety of aegeline in its products. Neither of those things happened.

We do not have the authority to evaluate and approve dietary supplements before they are sold to consumers. However, in this case we were able to invoke new enforcement authorities provided by FSMA to remove them from the market.

Key provisions under the new food safety law – mandatory recall and administrative detention – now play a critical role in allowing FDA to act quickly and decisively. We can now order a recall when there is a reasonable probability that an article of food is adulterated or misbranded under certain sections of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and there is also a reasonable probability that the articles of food will cause serious adverse health consequences or death to people or animals. 

We also have the authority to administratively detain a food or dietary supplement to prevent its distribution if the agency has reason to believe the product is adulterated or misbranded.

We invoked our recall authority and warned USPlabs that FDA might order it to stop distributing the involved OxyElite Pro dietary supplements if the company did not stop distribution on its own and conduct a voluntary recall. USPLabs agreed to voluntarily recall the OxyElite Pro products and destroy all lots of the products, including remaining warehouse stock, which had an estimated value of $22 million. We will supervise the destruction of these products.

My colleagues and I will continue to use our new authorities, as appropriate, to make sure that the supplements you take will not put you in the hospital. We are committed to keeping you and your family safe, using every tool at our disposal.

Daniel Fabricant, Ph.D., is Director of FDA’s Division of Dietary Supplement Programs

We’re Partnering with Mexico to Keep Foods Safe

By: Michael R. Taylor 

En Español

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. 

Deputy Commissioner Michael Taylor (on r) and Dr. Ricardo Cavazos, General Director of Economic and International Affairs at the Comisión Federal para la Protección contra Riesgos Sanitarios (COFEPRIS)

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