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ARLINGTON, Va. - In testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee on the proposed Food and Drug Import Safety Act, the Food Marketing Institute recommended aggressive measures by industry and government alike to bolster the U.S. food safety system and reassure consumers that the system is safe.
"This effort must include how food retailers and wholesalers work with suppliers, our commitment to train our own people, and our outreach to consumers," said FMI v.p. of food safety programs Jill Hollingsworth. "It is a farm-to-table challenge that needs a farm-to-table solution. It is a domestic and an international problem that the industry and government must address together."
She noted that the supermarket industry was already aggressively auditing and certifying suppliers, training employees, and educating consumers.
Hollingsworth also observed that FMI's "Safe Quality Food" (SQF) Program independently audits suppliers to certify that they adhere to stringent food safety best practices and comply with international standards. SQF, which has issued over 9,000 certificates to suppliers in 20 countries, is one of only five endorsed by the Global Food Safety Initiative, an international consortium of food safety experts and companies.
She said SQF could be used to support the bill's provision to expedite the review of products from companies that comply with new Food and Drug Administration food safety guidelines. "SQF requires that a company be in compliance with the regulatory requirements of the exporting and importing country, in addition to the standards set by retail buyers," she said. "Although not intended to substitute for government oversight, this private sector program adds another layer of 'policing' for products entering the U.S. food supply."
Hollingsworth additionally told the subcommittee that FMI is currently working with suppliers on how to streamline food recall communications.
She then presented FMI's comments on the bill's provisions, including mandatory recall authority, which the group may support if the FDA is given the ability to mandate a recall if a company refuses; rapid tests to monitor the safety of imported foods, which FMI supports if it focuses first on how serious the threat a pathogen or chemical poses, how frequently it contaminates food, and how accurate and reliable the test is; user fees on imported foods, which FMI opposes because it would not only raise the cost of food, but also create a conflict of interest if used to fund inspections; restricting ports of entry for imported foods, which the association finds "unworkable and prohibitively expensive"; and country-of-origin labeling for food ingredients, which FMI believes to be unworkable and costly for processed foods, given the large number of countries that serve as the source for ingredients.
Further, FMI supports continuing the operation of all FDA field laboratories, and takes the position that certifying foreign governments and companies "sounds promising," but is interested in seeing how FDA would implement a mandate of this scope, according to Hollingsworth.