The movement of farm and food products across geographic borders is subject to safeguards both political and scientific.
An example of a political safeguard would be Japan's decision this week to recommend a one-year extension of tariffs on imported beef and pork. That was done to protect Japanese farmers from a surge in imports. An example of a scientific safeguard would be the U.S. decision last spring to close its borders to Canadian beef. That was done after the discovery of a case of Mad Cow disease in Alberta.
Either way, food security is a matter of rising importance for most countries these days. Indeed, the U.S. recently took steps to strengthen food security at its borders.
In what federal officials are hailing as an unprecedented collaboration, the Food and Drug Administration and the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, or CBP, have joined forces to help bolster the Bioterrorism Act and safeguard the nation's food supply.
Deputy Commissioner Douglas M. Browning, Bureau of Customs and Border Protection: "But we're not being left out there by ourselves. The expertise rests with FDA and we have provided a means for lines of communication to our people, 24 hours a day 7 days a week. So if there are issues, if there are concerns, we have FDA experts we can go to that have the expertise, give us the direction, and we will carry it out."
Through the joint agreement, the CBP is continuing its mission of putting a single face on inspection at U.S. points of entry. For its part, the FDA will continue to protect U.S. consumers from any food or feed that may pose a serious public health threat.
Commissioner Mark B. McClellan, FDA: "It's very important to have an initial period that focuses on education, to make sure that people who are importing products know exactly what they need to do so they can get it right."
To speed up inspections at the border, the FDA is working on registering an estimated 400 thousand foreign and domestic firms that manufacture, process, pack or hold food and feed for U.S. animals and consumers. Once the list is complete, FDA officials will be able to share information with the 17,600 Customs and Border Protection officers at the 300 U.S. points of entry. So far, almost 100,000 companies, most of them foreign, have completed the necessary registration forms.
Registration is part of the foundation for several new rules the FDA is rolling out. One of the most recent allows officials to hold food or feed if there is evidence it is hazardous to either animals or the public health. Another of the proposed rules requires foreign shippers and domestic food producers to maintain records of where products were sent. All the rules are expected to be made final by the end of March 2004.