Agencies ink alliance that could ease regulatory burden at food facilities

by Matt Noltemeyer
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USDA and FDA MOU Jan 2018
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Perdue and FDA Commissioner Gottlieb announce formal agreement at the White House.
 
WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — The two principal government agencies that oversee food safety say a new agreement to increase collaboration may reduce the number of food-producing companies subject to dual regulatory requirements.

The idea is to make the oversight of food more effective and efficient by bolstering coordination between the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service and the Food and Drug Administration. The agencies said the agreement formalizes their ongoing cooperation efforts in areas that concern both agencies.

The agreement, unveiled Jan. 30 at the White House by Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and Commissioner of Food and Drugs Scott Gottlieb, MD, formalizes the agencies’ commitment to oversight of safety of the nation’s food supply. Most meat, poultry, catfish and certain egg products fall under FSIS jurisdiction. All other foods, such as dairy, seafood, produce and packaged foods, fall under the FDA’s realm. Key areas are being regulated by both, including the implementation of produce safety measures and biotechnology efforts.

Gottlieb touted strengthened food safety and potential cost savings.

“Over the last several months, the Secretary and I have worked closely and identified several areas where we can strengthen our collaboration to make our processes more efficient, predictable, and potentially lower cost to industry; while also strengthening our efforts to ensure food safety,” he said.

The agreement could bring about collaboration in numerous areas not yet specified. But the document signed by Perdue and Gottlieb establish interagency working groups to improve coordination in regulating food facilities, produce safety and biotechnology.

Dual-jurisdiction food facilities: Some food products in interstate commerce, and the processors who manufacture and handle them, are regulated by both agencies under the current framework. That may change as working groups analyze polices and reinterpret them in an effort to bring greater clarity and consistency to jurisdictional decisions, reduce industry costs and better target areas of risk using government resources.

“For example, when a facility, such as a canned soup facility, produces both chicken noodle soup and tomato soup, it is currently subject to regulation by both agencies,” the FDA said. “The agreement tasks both government organizations with identifying ways to streamline regulation and reduce inspection inefficiencies, while steadfastly upholding safety standards for dual-jurisdiction facilities.”

Produce safety: The agencies are collaborating to determine best practices for implementing the produce safety rule, the first regulatory framework specific to produce farms.  The rule, a feature of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, took effect last week for farms with gross revenues topping $500,000. 

“Congress passed the Food Safety Modernization Act and assigned responsibilities to the USDA and the FDA,” Perdue said. “The USDA has the knowledge and expertise to support the FDA’s work related to farming. We at the USDA have a motto: Do Right, and Feed Everyone. We believe this joint effort will help us move one step closer to that goal.”

Biotechnology products: The agencies will collaborate to develop regulatory approaches to biotechnology to handle mandates in the 2016 National Strategy for Modernizing the Regulatory System for Biotechnology Products.

The 10-year agreement stipulates that it does not lessen the responsibilities or authorities of either agency; may be terminated with 60 days’ notice by either agency; and is contingent on availability of funds appropriated by Congress. 

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