FDA’s role in the global food system

Michael R. Taylor and Howard R. Sklamberg write in the Harvard International Review (introduction only):

michael.taylor.fdaWe work for a public health regulatory agency – the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — that oversees products accounting for 20 percent of US consumer spending. FDA regulates industries that meet fundamental human health needs in the areas of pharmaceuticals, vaccines, blood and blood products, and medical devices. FDA also regulates the tobacco, dietary supplement, and cosmetic industries. In addition, we regulate the food industry. Twenty-five years ago, the FDA could afford to think and act as the domestic agency we were. Today we can’t. Every industry we regulate has become global in terms of how they source ingredients, manufacture finished products, and seek markets for the products they make here in the United States. Annual import entries of FDA-regulated products have almost tripled from 2004 to 2014, rising to about 33 million. The companies we regulate are often multinationals that have an international outlook and are affected by international standards, which they seek to harmonize.

So, FDA has had to become global, too. Since 2011, the US Congress has given us two new import safety laws with mandates and tools to ensure that imported medical and food products are as safe as domestic products. We now have offices in seven foreign countries compared to zero in 2007. We have full-time staff working on international harmonization of regulatory standards, trade policy issues, and regulatory partnerships with foreign governments. Our international engagement — and the importance of international relations to our success — is only increasing. In this article, we will highlight the international dimension of our food program, which has responsibility for the safety, composition, and labeling of all human and animal food products — except meat, poultry, and some processed egg products regulated by the US Department of Agriculture. We will focus specifically on the global public health and economic challenge of protecting the safety of our food supply to show how fully intertwined our domestic consumer protection mission is with challenges facing the global food system. Furthermore, we will explain how implementation of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) of 2011 brings home the lesson that when it comes to food safety, we’re all in this together.

Congress and FDA share a vision of how the United States must engage internationally on food safety for the good of its citizens and the good of the global community. Our work in the years ahead is to fully execute that vision.