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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

 

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New Food Safety Rules ''Won't Affect Trade''

Public comment still sought, says US ag negotiator

WASHINGTON, DC - 10/16/03 - New interim food safety regulations scheduled to go into effect December 12 will not negatively affect trade, says the chief US agricultural trade negotiator.

Briefing reporters recently at the State Department's Foreign Press Center in Washington, Allen Johnson said the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) - the agency tasked with enforcing the new regulations - will continue to seek public comment on the rules from interested foreign and domestic parties.

The regulations have been "significantly modified" from those originally proposed in 2002 to make them less burdensome to people who bring food products into the US, said Johnson, who works in the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR).

The first rule requires domestic and foreign food facilities that manufacture, process, pack or hold food for human or animal consumption in the US to register with the FDA.

The agency will begin operating an online registration system October 16 and the registration process will take just a few minutes, said L. Robert Lake, director of regulations and policy at the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

A second rule will require food importers to give prior notice to the FDA of food shipments to the US at least two hours before a shipment's arrival by road, four hours if by air or rail, eight hours if by water or before being mailed, he said.

The rules will facilitate the FDA's ability to take action if it perceives a threat to the US food supply, Johnson said.

The rules include a requirement that foreigners exporting to the US have an authorized US-based agent to serve as a point of contact, Lake said.

Both regulations are aimed at helping the FDA and Bureau of Customs and Border Protection ensure the United States maintains a safe food supply.

Registration will provide the FDA with additional information about food facilities with products destined for the US. Prior notice will get information to US officials sooner and may include information from intelligence sources, he said.

Johnson said the FDA initially will focus on education and training for those responsible for food facilities. Traditional enforcement of the regulations will be phased in, he added.

Failure to comply with the rules could lead to a shipment being refused at the port of entry, Lake said.

To help inform foreign exporters of the new regulations, Lake said he has briefed foreign embassies in Washington.

Also, the FDA will hold a satellite public meeting October 28 that will be simultaneously translated into Spanish and French, he said. The broadcast will be aired live to the Western Hemisphere and rebroadcast soon after to the rest of the world, he said.

Information about the briefing and registration is available at: http://www.fda.gov/OHRMS/DOCKETS/98fr/03-24921.htm

The US also will soon inform the World Trade Organization (WTO) of the new rules, Johnson said.

Lake said products covered by the rules include dietary supplements, infant formula, beverages, fruits, vegetables, canned and frozen food, candy, baked goods, gum, live animals, and animal feed.

The rules will not apply to food regulated by the US Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service, which includes meat, poultry and egg products, Lake said.

The comment period will conclude 75 days after October 10 with comments will be reviewed by the FDA and US Customs. A subsequent comment period will open in March of next year, he said.

During the 1990s the issue of food safety became an increasing concern in the US with several instances of pathogens and toxic chemicals being found in food, Lake said.

The concern became even stronger after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and the growing concerns that terrorists could use the food supply to harm the American public, he concluded.

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