Safety of imported foods needs strengthening
GAO says Federal agencies must refocus their efforts on high-risk foods
Customs and Border Protection (CPB), FDA, and FSIS have taken steps to address challenges in ensuring the safety of the increasing volume of imported food. For example, CBP maintains the system that importers use to provide information to FDA on food shipments; FDA electronically reviews food imports and inspects some foreign food production facilities to prevent food in violation from reaching US shores; and FSIS employs an equivalency system that requires countries to demonstrate that their food safety systems provide the same level of protection as the US system, according to the report.
However, gaps in enforcement and collaboration undermine these efforts. CBP’s computer system does not currently notify FDA or FSIS when imported food shipments arrive at
According to GAO, FDA generally collaborates with select states and foreign governments on imported food safety. FDA has entered into several agreements and informal partnerships for imported food with certain states, and some state officials told GAO they would like to collaborate further on food imports. However, citing legal restrictions, FDA does not fully share certain information, such as product distribution lists, with states during a recall.
FSIS has begun to make available to the public a list of retail establishments that have likely received food products that are subject to a serious recall. FDA is also expanding efforts to coordinate with other countries. In particular, through its Beyond Our Borders initiative, FDA intends to station investigators and technical experts in
GAO recommends, among other things, that FDA seek authority from Congress to assess civil penalties on firms and persons who violate FDA laws, and that the FDA commissioner explore ways to improve the agency’s ability to uniquely identify foreign firms. CPB and FDA generally agreed with GAO’s recommendations. FSIS provided technical comments only.To learn more about or download the GAO Report GAO-09-873, visit GAO’s Website.