Home > Transparency Posts > Fulfilling the Promise of the Food Safety Modernization Act: The Importance of Stakeholder Engagement

Fulfilling the Promise of the Food Safety Modernization Act: The Importance of Stakeholder Engagement

October 24, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Recently, I had the good fortune to fill in for an FDA colleague on a panel entitled, “Assuring the Safety of Imported Food” at the National Food Policy Conference, which is organized by the Consumer Federation of America.

Participants at the conference included a broad spectrum of activists, public officials, nutrition professionals, farm and food industry representatives, and scientists who are interested in agriculture, food and nutrition policy.  The Food and Drug Administration Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was one of the key areas of focus at the conference.

Even though I was called from the audience to participate unexpectedly in the panel, I hoped my role as Vice-Chair of FDA’s FSMA Imports Implementation Team would stand me in good stead. Fortunately, the other panelists spoke first, which gave me the chance to organize my thoughts.

My fellow panelists, Caroline Smith DeWaal, from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Mike Robach, from Cargill, and Eduardo Santos from Allen F. Johnson and Associates spoke eloquently on the challenges and opportunities that the imports provisions of FSMA represent to consumers, industry, and other countries.   They identified various key issues associated with FSMA implementation including the costs associated with implementation, training, capacity building in exporting countries, and ensuring both accountability and fairness.

In addition to emphasizing some of the main features of the FSMA imports provision, I discussed how FDA is approaching the task of developing over 50 deliverables mandated by FSMA, our outreach strategy, the importance of making sure our actions are consistent with our WTO obligations, and the overarching need for stakeholder involvement.

The main message I hoped to leave with the audience was the importance of their role as stakeholders in providing information, practical scenarios, and data as we proceed with FSMA implementation.  FDA’s significant and ongoing effort at early engagement via public meetings has already provided FDA with many useful insights. I encouraged stakeholders to use the “notice and comment” process to continue to provide information and feedback in response to upcoming proposed regulations.

The task before us is huge. Currently, there are over 160 countries exporting hundreds of thousands of FDA regulated food products to the U.S.  How do we collectively assure safety?  How do the import provisions consider domestic provisions? FSMA provides the framework to harness leading business global food safety practices, consumer expectations and importer practicalities, with agency standards and oversight.  We have a long way to go before we fully implement FSMA, but we have the platform on which to build and I am confident that we are up to the task at hand.

During the conference, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsac, CDC Director Thomas Frieden, and FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg highlighted the work of their respective agencies in addressing nutrition and food safety issues. They each echoed the importance of food safety and the public imperative for stakeholders to work together to optimize the safety and nutritional adequacy of our food supply.

Dr. Hamburg started her speech with, “Will Rogers liked to say that most political promises are about as solid as applesauce… (and FDA regulates applesauce!)  But some promises are just too important not to keep… like the promise that our food supply will be safe for every American.”

Each of us has a stake in bringing this promise to life.  The National Food Policy Forum was a terrific opportunity to be inspired, to strengthen our resolve, and to keep the stakeholder momentum moving ever forward.

Camille Brewer
Acting Deputy Director for Regulatory Affairs, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition
Senior Advisor for International Affairs, Office of Foods, Office of the Commissioner
U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

  1. October 25, 2011 at 3:27 pm

    I am glad to see the FDA is engaged in this area. The importing of food and health products is a huge area that needs serious attention. My concern would be that the FDA has a mandate to protect the people of the USA but many of the other groups have a different agenda. Given the different levels of co-operation between countries and other groups I hope the FDA can fulfill their role. It will be interesting to see how this develops.

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    November 12, 2011 at 12:59 am

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  3. C Slenderhips
    November 13, 2011 at 7:20 pm

    Why in heaven’s name does the US have to import food???? We have the best farming practices in the world and the most fertile land to produce more than we need. People need to get back to the small farmer and know where your food is grown/raised. People need to stop eating processed foods.
    As an American citizen, I do not care two cents about farmers in other countries. They can grow the food they need for their country and avoid spending $$$ to transport food. I will NEVER buy food from outside of the US. I check everything that I purchase and if it is not from the US, I do not buy it. I have boycotted food from Mexico, Indonesia, China, and Ecuador. If you are an American, I advise that you also boycott these foods that are being imported.
    Please stop this lunacy and let our farmers produce good food that can nourish ourselves and not need all these mandates/controls, etc.
    Get rid of these huge farms in the US that import feed to fatten animals in inhumane ways, wallowing in their feces and causing all the food-borne illnesses and diseases that we hear about in the news. Stop these farms from using antibiotics to the extent that they are no longer effective for humans with infections.
    Food borne diseases are never seen at the small farmer level, but the small farmer is continually being targeted just to show other countries that “We mean business.” Use our tax dollars to get to the root of the problem…..the huge farmer that has ruined our food supply and is now trampling on our small farmers.

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  5. gfr@IU
    November 22, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    First of all, I am glad to see the FDA engaging in efforts to make their agency more transparent. As demonstrated by increasing obesity rates, Americans are less healthy than ever, and I believe much of that can be attributed to an overall lack of knowledge about healthy practices– it’s hard for citizens to sort through all of the information they’re getting from different (sometimes competing) sources. Transparency efforts help alleviate this problem. As the First Lady and other agencies (namely USDA) work to fight obesity, the focus is almost exclusively on diet/exercise… but many forget that a more general view on healthier practices is more important than what to cook for dinner. This post about food safety– an often overlooked yet important part of our health– reminds people that it’s not just about putting the right food into your body, it’s about being aware of whether that food has been prepared correctly and is nourishing the body.

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  16. diandimitrov
    May 21, 2012 at 9:46 pm

    It’s really a big promise, that all the food supply will be safe, but I know that it is a realistic task that can be achieved through hard work and good coordination. According to me the proper implementation and participation of FSMA depends mostly on the degree of exercised control, therefore your work is so important and I wish you success. I just wonder, except for food origin, safety of production and preparation, does FSMA consider and regulates issues like for example extra added salt and fats in meat products, or sugar in fruit juices, which also if overlooked may turn to be a matter of food products safety.

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