The new US food safety law

BIG CHANGE, LITTLE CHANGE

the recent passing of the US Food Safety Modernization Act means big changes are coming for our neighbours to the south. There’s no question that change is on the way for the US food sector and many foreign suppliers, but Canadian producers of commodity crops like corn, soybeans and wheat may see only minor differences.

The law’s biggest change will come at the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates all food and livestock feed safety areas except traditional meats (the responsibility of the US Department of Agriculture).

prevention takes the spotlight
Instead of responding after a safety problem arises, the FDA now has a legal mandate to shift its emphasis to prevention.  It also has new enforcement powers to improve industry compliance with food safety prevention standards and to hold imported foods to the same standards required of US foods.

In effect, the agency is directed to develop an integrated food safety system, a process that will also require major changes in FDA’s own operations.

As yet, no one knows exactly what these changes will look like.  The next step in the US process is for the FDA to draft enforcement regulations: the nuts and bolts detailing who must do what, how they must do it, and by when.

FDA must publish its proposal by the end of 2011.  After that, there will be a period (probably 90 days) for the public to comment on any aspect of the proposal, followed by a period of some months during which FDA must review all the comments, make changes in the proposal, then issue a final rule.

The whole process is supposed to wrap up so the final rule takes effect by July, 2012.  Even then, there could be further delays (for example, if there is a legal challenge in the US court system), and there will almost certainly be a phase-in period of a year or more for everyone to adjust to the new system.

impact on canadian exports
So how will this affect Canadian products headed for US markets?

Any facility that receives, handles, manufactures, stores, or ships food for consumption in the US will have to comply with the new rules, and since FDA oversees food and feed, this will apply to all kinds of grain handling and processing facilities.

The new law requires US importers to develop foreign supplier verification programs to make sure their suppliers have analyzed possible food safety hazards (naturally occurring or intentional) and have put controls in place to prevent food or feed adulteration.  These programs are expected to be very risk-based and to allow importers a number of alternatives for verifying compliance.

Where a supplier country like Canada already has a food safety system and internal standards comparable to those in the US, it is possible FDA will consider a country-to-country agreement as adequate, without requiring additional inspections and sampling.  

The rules will not apply directly to farmers, who are specifically exempt – but growers may be indirectly affected as grain handlers develop verification programs and adopt new provisions in their grower contracts. 

For more details, visit us online at www.ontariograinfarmer.ca