FDA Proposes Tighter Controls on Food Imports

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With only a small fraction of imported food currently inspected for safety, the Food and Drug Administration announced this morning that it would issue long-awaited rules requiring imported foods meet the same safety standards as food produced within the United States.

Nearly two-thirds of fresh fruits and vegetables consumed by Americans is imported, yet the FDA currently inspects only about 2 percent of imports.

The new rules would shift the responsibility of ensuring food safety away from federal regulators and more to the American companies which bring in foods from foreign sources. Simply put, American companies would have to prove that appropriate controls are in place—including food testing and strict record keeping—among foreign producers. Additionally, American importers would need to keep their own records on foreign suppliers and perform on-site inspections.

An FDA spokesman estimated that the cost of the new rules to importers would be $400 million to $500 million.

"Less than 2 percent of import shipments are physically examined, and we’re up to around 10 million food products annually,” said Michael Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine at the FDA. “We all realize we need to do more.”

According to the FDA, eight of the 19 multi-state food outbreaks which have occurred since January 2011 have been linked to imports. Most recently, Turkish-originated pomegranate seeds sickened more than 140 Americans with hepatitis A.

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