President Obama’s FY 2016 budget request would provide an additional $109 million for FSMA implementation. In the current fiscal year, FDA received an additional $27.5 million. And at this juncture as Congress considers the funding that will help transform all the plans and preparations for FSMA into protections that will greatly reduce the number of illnesses caused by contaminated foods and greatly increase consumer confidence in the safety of our food supply, this additional investment would be critical for the success of FSMA and its implementation, writes Michael R. Taylor is FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine.
In an FDA Voice blog, Taylor describes that work must be done right now to ensure that the FSMA rules are implemented smoothly and effectively in late 2016 and 2017, and lists the areas in need of additional funding that, through FSMA, will transform the food safety system into one that prevents hazards instead of just responding to them.
- Approach to food safety inspections and compliance will be fundamentally different. FDA will deploy inspectors who are specialized in specific food commodities, rather than covering a broad range of FDA-regulated products. Backed by technical experts, they will assess the soundness and performance of a facility’s overall food safety system. Achieving this will require a major reorientation and retraining of more than 2,000 FDA inspectors, compliance officers and other staff involved in food safety activities.
- For vast majority of food producers want to comply and keep their products safe. FDA will be issuing guidance documents that will be essential to helping industry meet FSMA requirements. Funds are needed now for FDA to recruit additional experts who can ensure that guidance development is based on the best science and knowledge of industry practices.
- Education and technical assistance to help farmers, processors and importers—especially small businesses—implement the new standards. FDA would use a large portion of these resources to provide financial support to state agencies and public-private-academic collaborative entities, such as the Produce Safety Alliance and the Preventive Controls Alliance. FDA has also joined with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) in providing grants that will fund food safety training for small, sustainable and organic farm owners and food processors.
- State partnerships. There are more than 3,000 state, local and tribal government agencies involved in food safety. To align state programs with FDA’s new facility inspection and compliance approach, the agency will provide states with funds for inspector training, information sharing capacity with FDA and other states, state laboratory coordination, and inspector certification programs, and these preparations must be accelerated in 2016.
- Modernize how we ensure the safety of imported foods. The Foreign Supplier Verification Program will require a substantial regulatory development process, increased staffing and the training of more than 400 investigative and compliance personnel within FDA to enforce the regulation. It will also require extensive training and technical assistance for importers.
Those are just the highlights; there’s much more to be done. The bottom line is that without investment now, and sustained funding afterwards, there is the risk that the implementation of FSMA will be uneven or even delayed. This would be bad for everyone, including those who must meet the new standards and those who must enforce them. Most importantly, it would be bad for consumers, who want to be sure that the foods they are eating and serving their families are safe.