GAO Identifies Collaboration and Enforcement Gaps in Imported Food Safety System
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released a report prepared in response to congressional inquiries about the current system for ensuring the safety of imported foods. Titled “Agencies Need to Address Gaps in Enforcement and Collaboration to Enhance Safety of Imported Food,” the report focuses on Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, and state regulators responsible for the safety of foods imported from more than 150 countries and territories.
GAO discusses the contamination outbreaks recently associated with imported foods and notes that steps federal agencies have already taken are falling short because (i) their “computer systems do not share key information”; (ii) “FDA has limited authority to ensure importer compliance”; (iii) “CBP and FDA do not provide unique identification numbers to firms”; and (iv) “CBP faces challenges in managing in-bond shipments,” i.e., “those that move within the United States without formally entering U.S. commerce.” The report also found that FDA “does not always share certain information during a recall.”
Specific recommendations to improve the safety of imported foods include adapting some of the EU’s practices for use in the United States, improving interagency communications, identifying foreign firms with a unique identifier, engaging in joint port initiatives, developing performance measurements for an FDA program that will target high-risk imported food shipments for field and laboratory examinations, and giving FDA the authority to assess civil penalties on those violating food safety laws.