Increased research, import checks lead list of FDA food security steps

Jul 23, 2003 (CIDRAP News) – The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today cited a new $5 million fund for food security research and a five-fold increase in food import inspections as the latest examples of its efforts to improve the security of the nation's food supply.

The agency made the announcement as it released an 18-page progress report on its food security efforts since Sep 11, 2001.

"We are investing unprecedented time, energy and resources to make sure the food that goes from our nation's ports and food facilities to our families' dinner tables is safe," Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said in a news release.

The FDA has stepped up its food import inspections from 12,000 in fiscal year 2001 to 62,000 so far in fiscal 2003 (which ends Sep 30), officials said. Since 2001 the agency has hired 655 new field personnel, 300 of whom work in investigations at ports of entry.

Over the same period, the FDA increased the number of ports and border crossings where it inspects food imports from 40 to 90. In addition, the increase in inspections reflects increased FDA efforts during "Operation Liberty Shield," a security alert earlier this year, and enhanced collaboration with other government agencies on food security.

The new $5 million research fund will be used to develop technologies and strategies to prevent and minimize threats to food security, the agency said. The money comes from the federal post-9/11 Emergency Response Fund and was allocated to the FDA by the White House Office of Management and Budget.

At a news briefing today, senior FDA officials said the fund would be used to study such things as the stability of pathogenic agents in food, how to inactivate such agents, and how to detect extremely pathogenic agents that food would not normally be tested for.

"We're looking at the announcement today of $5 million in supplemental funding as the seed which we hope will germinate a new research initiative that not only will allow us to respond but to anticipate a food safety and security concern," said an FDA official at the briefing. Officials at the briefing spoke on condition they not be named.

Last week the FDA announced the awarding of a contract to the Institute of Food Technologists to review and report on tools the food industry can use to protect its products from tampering. The funds for that contract are coming from the regular budget of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, not from the new research fund, FDA spokesman Sebastian Cianci told CIDRAP News today.

The FDA progress report describes a "five-pronged strategy" for improving food security. The strategies or broad objectives include increasing awareness, developing capacity to identify specific threats or attacks, providing ways to shield the food supply, developing the ability to respond quickly and coherently to an attack, and developing an ability to recover quickly.

The agency cites 10 "critical focus areas" for implementing the strategies. Among them are the increases in FDA field personnel, import inspections, and research. In other specific measures, the FDA noted it has:

  • Published four major proposed rules under the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2000, covering registration of food facilities, advance notice of food imports, administrative detention of foods, and record-keeping
  • Issued security guidance documents for food producers, processors and transporters; food importers; retail food businesses; the cosmetic industry; and milk processors
  • Assessed the vulnerability of the food supply and commissioned independent threat assessments by the Battelle Memorial Institute and the Institute of Food Technologists
  • Developed analytical methods for identifying priority biological and chemical agents in foods and worked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Laboratory Response Network to set up a laboratory network called the Food Emergency Response Network
  • Set up an "Office of Crisis Management" and conducted emergency response exercises with various other agencies and states.

See also:

HHS news release

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