‘Farm-to-Table Challenge Needs a Farm-to-Table Solution’

ARLINGTON, VA — September 26, 2007 — The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) called for aggressive measures by the industry and government to strengthen America’s food safety system and restore consumer confidence, testifying today before the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee on the proposed Food and Drug Import Safety Act (H.R. 3610).

"This effort must include how food retailers and wholesalers work with suppliers, our commitment to train our own people and our outreach to consumers," testified FMI Vice President of Food Safety Programs Jill Hollingsworth, D.V.M. "It is a farm-to-table challenge that needs a farm-to-table solution. It is a domestic and an international problem that the industry and government must address together."

She highlighted how the supermarket industry is already aggressively auditing and certifying suppliers, training employees and educating consumers.

FMI Safe Quality Food Program Supports Government Oversight

Hollingsworth described how FMI’s Safe Quality Food (SQF) Program independently audits suppliers to certify that they observe rigorous food safety best practices and comply with international standards. This program has issued more than 9,000 certificates to suppliers in 20 countries. It is one of only five endorsed by the Global Food Safety Initiative, an international consortium of food safety experts and companies.

The SQF Program could be useful, she said, to support the bill’s provision to expedite the review of products from companies that comply with new Food and Drug Administration (FDA) food safety guidelines. "SQF requires that a company be in compliance with the regulatory requirements of the exporting and importing country, in addition to the standards set by retail buyers. Although not intended to substitute for government oversight, this private sector program adds another layer of 'policing' for products entering the U.S. food supply."

The FMI program SuperSafeMark® trains and certifies 15,000 store managers a year to ensure that they comply with the FDA Food Code, she said.

FMI educates consumers about safe food-handling through the Partnership for Food Safety Education, a private-public sector project that brings together consumer groups, the FDA, U.S. Department of Agriculture and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It runs the Fight BAC!® campaign to educate children and recently launched the Be Food Safe campaign to educate customers about safe food practices.

Hollingsworth informed the subcommittee that FMI is exploring with suppliers how to make food recall communications more effective and efficient.

She presented FMI’s comments on the bill’s provisions and how they may affect the industry and consumers, including:

Mandatory Recall Authority — She noted that companies do not refuse to recall adulterated products at FDA’s request under the current voluntary system. FMI may support this provision if the agency is given the "option" to mandate a recall if a company refuses. This concept differs somewhat from the current bill language, which would "require" the FDA to issue a cease-distribution order upon finding that a food product is unsafe.

Rapid Tests to Monitor the Safety of Imported Foods — FMI supports this concept if it focuses first on how serious the threat a pathogen or chemical poses, how frequently it contaminates food and how accurate and reliable the test is. Rapid testing should be used to monitor safety and not to inspect foods.

User Fees on Imported Foods — FMI opposes this provision because it would not only raise the cost of food, but such fees would also create a conflict of interest if used to fund inspections.

Restricting Ports of Entry for Imported Foods — This provision is unworkable and prohibitively expensive. "FMI is particularly concerned about the ability of ports to handle the spike in imports of perishable commodities during the winter months, when the U.S. growing season is over." Delays at the port increase costs and threaten the industry’s ability to bring winter fruits and vegetables to market in a timely manner. Consumers would not just pay more, but many would also eat fewer fruits and vegetables — "clearly an undesirable outcome."

Country of Origin Labeling for Food Ingredients — This requirement would be most unworkable and costly for processed foods given the large number of countries that serve as the source for ingredients. Identifying one or 20 countries from which food and its ingredients originated does not enhance the safety of a product. FMI believes the resources to implement such a system would be far better spent on measures to improve the safety of food products.

Commenting on other provisions in the bill, FMI supports continuing the operation of all FDA field laboratories. The concept of certifying foreign governments and companies "sounds promising," but FMI would like to see how FDA would implement a mandate of this magnitude.


Bill Greer