By: Stephen Ostroff, M.D., and Camille Brewer, M.S., R.D.
Over the past two months, we have been part of FDA delegations visiting three very diverse countries—Canada, China and Mexico—to discuss food safety. As we are doing in the United States with the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), each country we visited is addressing their national food safety objectives in unique and creative ways. And each has committed to taking a strong role in supporting compliance with the new food safety regulations mandated by FSMA.
Looking at how these nations are different – and how they are the same – opens a window on the challenges and opportunities presented by FSMA implementation on a global scale. The seven foundational FSMA rules are now final and they will have a profound effect on foreign food producers that want to export their products to the United States.
We visited Canada on May 10 and 11 for public meetings on FSMA in Toronto and Ottawa. Canada is modernizing its own food safety system under the Safe Foods for Canadians Act, which, like FSMA, places a strong emphasis on preventive controls. Our nations have a strong interest in achieving as much convergence as possible on food safety standards.
We had the opportunity to explain that the recently signed systems recognition arrangement with Canada does not create a “green lane” for foods shipped to the United States. Instead, it is a reciprocal regulatory cooperation tool that will foster greater risk-based targeting of resources and will foster cooperation in many areas, such as risk assessment and research. The systems recognition arrangement with Canada, signed on May 4, affirms that while our countries’ domestic food safety systems are not identical in all aspects, they currently do achieve a comparable degree of food safety protection.
In addition, considerable interest was expressed in the Voluntary Qualified Importer Program (VQIP), which does provide facilitated entry for food shipments to the United States.
In late April, our public and private meetings in Mexico strengthened what has become a true partnership between our two countries. In 2014, we started the Produce Safety Partnership with the National Service for Agro Alimentary Health, Safety and Quality (SENASICA), and the Federal Commission for the Protection from Sanitary Risks (COFEPRIS)—our regulatory partners in Mexico—to help prepare growers and packers there to comply with the FSMA requirements. This flagship program forms the basis for extensive collaboration on produce issues.
Mexico continues to modernize and strengthen its own regulatory regime for food safety. Our strong and growing relationship with the Mexican government is a model for partnerships we’d like to forge with other nations. One of our central FSMA themes is working closely with foreign governments that share our food safety goals, and whose own food safety efforts can contribute to the safety of imported food. Our FDA office in Mexico helps to build and sustain our mutual food safety goals.
This is a priority for both Mexico and the United States because of the large volume of produce we trade and the importance of produce safety from a public health and confidence standpoint. Much of the produce we eat in the U.S. is grown in Mexico, including produce that would otherwise be hard to find in the winter months. A lot is at stake for both sides, and our meetings in Mexico reinforced our shared commitment to food safety.
A week before the Mexico trip, we traveled to Beijing for a FSMA public meeting and meetings with our regulatory counterparts in China—the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ), the China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA), and the China National Center for Food Safety Risk Assessment (CFSA). China also has new food safety laws. The interest in meeting FSMA requirements is so intense that the public meeting was shared across China by webinar, with more than 5,200 participants in government agencies, academic institutions, and industry.
There were meetings with Chinese officials about issues of mutual interest and strategic importance, in addition to subjects unique to China, such as the regulation of ceramic tableware and traditional Chinese medicine.
Like FDA, government regulators in China have been working to refine the food-safety infrastructure based on new laws. The sheer vastness of the country and the rapid pace of economic development and change are key factors that government officials are taking into account as they refine their laws to control and monitor food production.
Progress is being steadily made and the FDA Office in China continues to work effectively with Chinese authorities to identify points of synergy. The visit culminated in a meeting of representatives of China, the European Union and FDA to discuss core food safety principles and other subjects.
So you can see our partnerships take on different forms. What we learned in our travels to Mexico, China and Canada is that each nation has a strong resolve to make their food supply safer for their own citizens and for export to other nations.
We will continue traveling to countries willing to partner with us in this mission. No matter where you live, no matter where you govern, everyone wants safe food.
Stephen Ostroff, M.D., is FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine
Camille Brewer, M.S., R.D., is the Director of International Affairs at FDA’s Office of Foods and Veterinary Medicine