Food safety initiative needs industry’s input – Interagency Food Safety Initiative; food industry
Representatives from the Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency and Centers for Disease Control recently convened separate meetings with food industry and consumer group representatives to obtain input on the development of a “historic Interagency Food Safety Initiative.”
Most industry participants viewed their meetings as surprisingly open-ended and vague. While noting that our food supply is safe, FDA Deputy Commissioner for Policy Bill Schultz, who was the Chair of the meeting with industry, stated that the agencies felt that there were large areas of food safety that were going unaddressed.
He noted that “due to changes in areas such as eating patterns and imports” there are “big opportunities” for “making major improvements in the safety of the food supply.”
The agency representatives expressed the belief that there was a commitment to the food safety issue at the highest levels of government, and that they view the embryonic interagency initiative as a long-term project that may also involve some short-term efforts.
Schultz estimated that it would take several months, at least, for proposed initiatives to emerge, “although there may be some near-term ideas that could be incorporated into the 1998 budget cycle.” All agency participants emphasized the interagency and “farm to table” aspects of the effort.
When asked to provide more insight into the areas in which the agencies may focus, Schultz noted that some issues they had discussed internally included the adequacy of the infrastructure for responding to food safety-related crises, dealing with microbiological contamination by methods such as HACCP, enhancing education and surveillance, and food additive and pesticide issues.
When asked to describe the consumer group recommendations and perceptions, Schultz stated that those groups had focused on food additive issues, education, egg safety, imports, and reductions in inspectional activities.
The participants also noted that they were relying on a broad variety of reports and assessments, including the Institute of Food Technologists’ recommendations on this issue.
Many of the industry comments merely probed the nature and timing of the interagency initiative. However, industry representatives made the following points and recommendations:
* The agencies should focus on consumer education because most food safety problems occur in the kitchen.
* This should be a public/private partnership because government involvement lends great credibility to such efforts.
* Educational efforts should focus on ensuring that food safety messages are conveyed in a wide variety of languages to ensure broad understanding; and every effort should be made to coordinate with the states to ensure consistent surveillance activities, harmonization of testing methods, quality in epidemiological assessments, and rational public responses to food safety problems.
* The agencies should encourage harmonization of state requirements relating to standards for food handling and training.
* The agencies need to improve the available baseline information on the epidemiology of food-borne illness in order to develop rational policies and responses to crises; and the agencies need to speak out on issues where there is no food safety concern – such as radiation of foods and genetically-modified foods.
Although ill-defined at this time, it is clear that in the coming months these agencies will be conducting an intensive internal review of food safety issues, and industry will need to participate vigorously to ensure that the agencies’ priorities are well-placed.
The agencies have invited industry to submit written comments suggesting food safety priorities. We should take them up on that offer.
Stuart M. Pape is a partner in the Washington law firm of Patton Boggs L.L.P., where he heads the firm’s food and drug practice. He represents food companies in matters before the FDA, USDA, FTC and Congress. Earlier, he served in the chief counsel’s office of the FDA and was executive assistant to FDA Commissioner Donald Kennedy.
COPYRIGHT 1996 Business News Publishing Co.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group