FDA, Customs to cooperate

FDA, Customs to cooperate

The Food and Drug Administration will be able to commission officers from the Bureau of Customs and Border Patrol to help speed food inspections at ports of entry to secure a safe food supply, under an agreement formalized by the two federal agencies on Wednesday.

The additional inspectors are needed to help implement the prior-notice provisions of the Bioterrorism Act, which allows the FDA to require shippers to submit information about all food shipments imported or offered for import into the U.S..

Under the commissioning agreement, the FDA will be able to tap into Customs' larger work force and have a presence at each of the more than 300 U.S. ports of entry. FDA Commissioner Mark B. McClellan said his agency has about 900 port inspectors, which is not enough to cover each port.

As part of the agreement, each port will have at least two FDA-trained experts, who can assist other Customs agents as necessary, said Douglas Browning, deputy customs commissioner.

Customs agents, who will have additional training before they are commissioned by the FDA, also will have constant access to off-site FDA experts. Customs already has trained between 1,600 and 1,800 agents for commissioning by the FDA, Browning said.

"One of our greatest vulnerabilities is our food supply," McClellan said at the signing. The agreement "enables us to work more efficiently with (Customs), combining their strong resources with our own expertise in keeping on the alert for potentially hazardous foods and responding to possible threats," he said.

FDA prior-notice regulations take effect on Dec. 12, although McClellan said his agency would first focus on compliance education.