First came the Facebook posts that got shared and reshared. Within a few days, “pink slime” was a trending topic on Twitter.
The public fascination in March with pink slime (what the beef industry calls “lean, finely textured beef”) shows two things: Social media wields incredible power, and Americans are interested and concerned about their food.
In the past month, a campaign has been building to ban genetically modified food or at least have such ingredients labeled, and a suggestion by the Agriculture Department that it allow poultry companies to police the safety of their own products resulted in a public backlash.
The Institute of Medicine on April 2 released a 300-page report that outlines the significant growth of imported food and the U.S. government’s inability to ensure food imports are safe.
Perhaps equally telling is what didn’t happen during the time period: the Food and Drug Administration missed several congressional deadlines for implementing last year’s Food Safety Modernization Act.
“The FDA’s implementation of FSMA is a mess. There are a slew of things the agency is working on, but not all the items are equally important,” Benjamin England, a former FDA lawyer, said at the Cool Cargoes track at the Trans-Pacific Maritime Conference in March.
“The FDA’s January 2012 deadlines are already passed; many of them were missed,” said England, founder of fdaimports.com. “We should expect ‘slippage’ in the bill’s implementation.”
One delay in the FDA implementation timeline is in establishing a fee schedule for imported foods.
Last fall, the FDA published a schedule of fees it intended to impose on food imports subject to reinspections, and gave an Oct. 1 date for imposition of the fees.
The FDA withdrew the fee schedule following a barrage of criticism and said it would study the issue further.
The 2011 law requires the FDA to conduct two examinations of imported food before the agency is authorized to charge for services related to the second and subsequent examinations.
Jim Percival, vice president of compliance for third-party logistics provider Damco USA, said import reinspections are only one area where the FDA will be adding fees. Other fee areas include:
- Domestic facility inspections.
- Foreign facility inspections.
- Failure to comply with a recall order.
“The FDA doesn’t have the budget to hire the inspectors it needs to run its programs,” Percival said. “The goal of the FDA is to recoup 100 percent of its cost associated with these activities — in other words, they are self funding.”
Indeed, user fees were prominent in the budget the Obama administration sent to Congress earlier this year. The FDA budget request for fiscal 2013 related to food inspections and implementing the law totaled $1,425,130,000, up $254 million or 22 percent. Of this total, $1,150,725,000, or 81 percent, would be from congressionally appropriated funds, and $274.4 million, or 19 percent, would be collected as user fees. The agency’s request to be permitted to collect the fees was an amount 10 times higher than the amount Congress authorized for fiscal 2012.
In its report, the Institute of Medicine, a branch of the National Academy of Sciences, said that with imports up so dramatically, the FDA can’t ensure the safety of medicine or food because it can’t conduct enough inspections at factories, overseas food production facilities and at ports of entry.
The report, requested by the FDA, calls for a number of changes to improve inspection of food and drugs abroad, including working with other developed countries that also inspect food and drugs so efforts are not duplicated.
The IOM report also recommends developing low-cost technologies to prevent fraud and looking into whether the FDA pilot program, Secure Supply Chain, can be expanded to include food companies. It rewards drug companies that track their products from manufacture to market by speeding entry of their products into the U.S. market.
The report also called for investing in safe food and drug programs in developing countries. Various U.S. agencies could provide technical expertise, training and tools to improve the surveillance systems in these countries, the report said, and provide this assistance directly or through international organizations such as the World Health Organization.
Contact Stephanie Nall at email@example.com.