PDF _ RL34198 - U.S. Food and Agricultural Imports: Safeguards and Selected Issues
16-Dec-2009; Geoffrey S. Becker ; 20 p.

Update: Previous Releases:
February 2, 2009
August 14, 2008
April 16, 2008
January 2, 2008

Abstract: U.S. officials continue to assert that the U.S. food supply, including the portion provided through imports, is among the safest in the world. One challenge has been how to keep it safe in the face of rapidly rising imports, a result of globalization and consumer desire for a wider variety of foods year-round. The issue of import safety has been the focus of numerous congressional hearings in the 110th Congress, where a variety of bills have been offered on the subject.

Does the U.S. safety system, first created at a time when most Americans obtained their foods domestically, adequately protect public health? What, if any, changes should be made to enhance the safety of food imports? Critics argue that major reforms are necessary because the present programs are both poorly designed and inadequately funded to meet today’s challenges. An opposing argument is that imported foods already are subject to the same safety standards as — and pose no greater hazards than — domestically produced foods. The Bush Administration had initially argued that smarter allocation of existing resources, and the food industry’s own controls, can and should be capable of addressing any problems.

Still, a growing consensus among policymakers is that additional resources are needed. For example, in early December 2007 a science advisory board of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Science Board concluded that the agency ‘s overall appropriation, now at about $1.5 billion, should be more than doubled in the next several years if it is to meet its current responsibilities, including but not limited to food safety. The Administration in June 2008 asked for a $275 million increase for FDA in FY2009. Much of this would be to address the safety of food and other imports regulated by the agency. The Administration in November 2007 also issued new policy recommendations on food safety and on import safety.

Although these recommendations have received some attention in the 110th Congress, a more recent focus has been on draft bills circulated by the chairmen of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. Although they differ in detail, both seek broad reforms in FDA’s oversight of food and drug safety, including of imports. Recently introduced S. 3385 also seeks broad reforms, concentrating on food oversight. Numerous other food safety bills are pending that address one or more aspects of food import safety. Several are primarily import-oriented, such as H.R. 2997, S. 1776, H.R. 1148/S. 654, H.R. 2108/S. 1274, H.R. 3610, H.R. 3624, H.R. 3937, H.R. 3967, and S. 2418. Many, for example, propose that importing establishments, and/or the foreign countries in which they are located, first receive formal U.S. certification that their food safety systems provide at least the same level of safety assurances as the U.S. system. A number also propose the collection of user fees from importers to cover the costs of inspecting foreign products at the borders. Some bills seek to require more physical inspections and testing by FDA at the border or within other countries, to authorize more research into inspection and testing technologies, or to restrict imports to specific ports.

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Topics: Economics & Trade, Risk & Reform, Agriculture

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