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October 6, 2007

CRS Report: U.S. Food and Agricultural Imports: Safeguards and Selected Issues

A new Congressional Research Service report is available at OpenCRS.com.  Here is the summary:

U.S. Food and Agricultural Imports: Safeguards and Selected Issues

U.S. officials continue to assert that the U.S. food supply, including the portion provided through imports, is among the safest in the world. One challenge has been how to keep it safe in the face of rapidly rising imports, a result of globalization and consumer desire for a wider variety of nutritious and inexpensive foods year-round. Two federal agencies -- USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Food and Drug Administration (FDA) -- are responsible for the majority of the total funding and staffing of the government's food regulatory system. For imports, FSIS relies on a very different regulatory system than FDA, including a differing approach to addressing equivalence, as described in this report. Do U.S. safeguards, generally created at a time when most Americans obtained their foods domestically, remain sufficient to protect public health? What, if any, changes should be made to enhance the safety of food imports? Critics argue that major reforms are necessary because the present programs are both poorly designed and inadequately funded to meet today's challenges. Those who oppose major changes assert that imported foods already are subject to the same safety standards as -- and pose no greater hazards than -- domestically produced foods. They also contend that smarter allocation of existing resources, and the food industry's own controls, can and should be capable of addressing any problems that arise. Section 1009 in the Food Safety title (X) of the Food and Drug Administration Amendments Act of 2007 (H.R. 3580; P.L. 110-85), passed in September 2007, requires an annual report to Congress on the number and amount of FDA-regulated food products imported by country and type of food, the number of inspectors and inspections performed, and aggregated data on inspection findings, including violations and enforcement actions. Nearly a dozen other food safety bills pending as of October 2007 contain provisions addressing some aspect of food import safety. Several focus almost exclusively on the issue. Many of these bills (including H.R. 2997, S. 1776, H.R. 1148/S. 654, H.R. 2108/S. 1274, H.R. 3610, and H.R. 3624) propose that importing establishments, and/or the foreign countries in which they are located, first receive formal certification from U.S. authorities that their food safety systems demonstrably provide at least the same level of safety assurances as the U.S. system. Under some of these bills, certification could be denied or revoked if foreign safeguards are found to be insufficient, unsafe imports are discovered, or foodborne illnesses are linked to such products. A number of the bills also propose the collection of user fees from importers to cover the costs of inspecting foreign products at the borders. Some bills seek to require more physical inspections and testing by FDA at the border or within other countries, to authorize more research into inspection and testing technologies, or to restrict imports to specific ports. H.R. 3100 is another measure with import safety provisions. (This report supersedes CRS Report RS22664.)

October 6, 2007 in food safety | Permalink

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