Enhancing the Global Food Supply by Building International Capacity

By: Julie Moss

In a global marketplace, food must be safe regardless of where it comes from. That means consumers should feel confident in the safety of the food they eat, whether it comes from India or Indiana. In fact, the distinction between imported and domestically produced food is blurring, as many U.S. food products are made with imported ingredients. Responding to this increasingly globalized food supply system, FDA held a public meeting on June 19 to discuss FDA’s plan to expand the food safety capacity of foreign governments and their respective food industries in countries that export food to the United States. This approach is known as capacity building.

microphoneCongress recognized the need for capacity building in the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), of 2011 when they tasked FDA with developing a comprehensive plan to expand the technical, scientific and regulatory food safety capacity of foreign governments and their respective food industries in countries that export foods to the U.S. FSMA marks the first time that Congress has charged FDA with comprehensively addressing international food safety capacity building, a development that has been very exciting for FDA. I have the pleasure of co-leading the work group to develop the plan with Katherine Bond, who is with FDA’s Office of International Programs.

Although the specific charge provided by Congress is new, this type of work is not. FDA has been engaged in international capacity building for many years, traveling overseas to conduct food safety training programs on Good Agricultural Practices, Good Aquaculture Practices and to provide hands-on laboratory training, for example. But the international capacity-building plan mandated by FSMA allows us to take this work to a new level.

Of course, food safety capacity building isn’t just about strengthening foreign food safety systems—we build capacity domestically as well. For example, FDA provides grants to organizations that represent State and local laboratories to strengthen laboratory collaboration and equivalency. FDA has also participated in several public-private collaborations to provide food safety training here in the U.S.

The June 19th meeting gave the public an opportunity to view and comment on draft recommendations that we’re considering for inclusion in the capacity-building plan. A number of organizations provided input on the recommendations, including the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service, the World Bank, the United Nations, the governments of Canada and the Philippines, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, and Campbell Soup. Given the breadth of this input, it is essential that FDA collaborate with partners to get the work done. FDA can’t do it alone.

FSMA requires that we include, as appropriate, certain elements in developing the plan—such as provisions for bilateral and multilateral arrangements and agreements, secure electronic data sharing, and training on U.S. requirements for safe food. But we aren’t stopping there. We are also considering incorporating additional themes into the plan to ensure that FDA performs its work effectively and intelligently. This means using available data to determine where the need is the greatest by country and by commodity, and it means being able to measure the impact of our efforts.

FDA’s international capacity-building plan is still under development, and your input is most welcome. You can review a summary of our draft recommendations, and comments are due to FDA’s Division of Dockets Management by July 20, 2012.

Julie Moss is Deputy Director, International Affairs Staff, of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition