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.
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