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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In response to increasing public concerns about the safety of imported food, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) yesterday unveiled a proposal it said was designed to strengthen, modernize, and improve government oversight of imported food and ingredients. The proposed public-private partnership is known as "Commitment to Consumers: The Four Pillars of Food Safety."
Members of the House and Senate have been briefed in detail about GMA's proposal, and Congressional staff has been in the loop, GMA spokesman Scott Openshaw told Progressive Grocer yesterday. The next step is to create legislation to implement the program, he said.
"Ensuring the United States has the safest food supply in the world is priority number one for the food and beverage industry," said Cal Dooley, president and c.e.o. of GMA, in a statement. "Because we cannot simply inspect our way to a safer food supply, industry can apply its vast knowledge and practical experience along the entire supply chain to prevent problems before they arise. And, under our proposal, a fortified FDA will be right there with us, side by side, to make sure we do it right."
Prevention and a stronger public-private food safety partnership are the foundation of GMA's Four Pillars proposal, the trade group said. If adopted, all importers of record would be required to adopt a foreign supplier quality assurance program and verify that imported ingredients and products meet U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) food safety and quality requirements. The program would be based on FDA guidance and industry best practices, and would be monitored and enforced by the FDA.
The second pillar of the proposal would allow FDA to focus even greater resources on products and countries deemed of higher risk, according to GMA, via a program that would allow food companies/importers to qualify their products as lower risk by sharing test results, data and supply chain information with the FDA in a confidential manner. Qualifying products and ingredients would receive expedited treatment at the borders, allowing the FDA to train its resources on products that carry greater risk of contamination.
The third leg of the proposal focuses on building capacity within foreign governments to facilitate food safety standards that are more closely aligned with those of the FDA.
Finally, the fourth pillar seeks to expand the capacity of FDA, by providing the agency with "the resources it needs to get the job done," GMA said.
Echoing a major theme from last week's White House Interagency Working Group on Import Safety report, the Four Pillars program proposal is intended to improve the safety of food imports through an integrated, "life-cycle" approach centering on prevention, the trade group noted.
Dooley said he "look[s] forward to working with Congress, the Bush Administration and appropriate agencies to adopt this prevention-first strategy."
A copy of "Commitment to Consumers: The Four Pillars of Food Safety" can be found at www.gmabrands.com.