On January 4, 2011, the US Food Safety Modernization Act was signed into law, which greatly expanded the authority of the Food and Drug Administration to oversee the safety of most food products.
The FSMA gave the FDA broad new powers to better protect public health by strengthening the US food safety system, with a special focus on instituting preventative practices for those who grow, process, transport and store food.
According to official statistics, 19% of food consumed in the US today is imported. Carrying out port-of-entry food inspections is therefore an arduous task and often times unreliable in keeping unsafe foods from entering the US.
With that in mind, the FDAhas implemented FSMA regulations that task importers with verifying that their foreign suppliers are being held to the same food safety standards as producers in the US.
Additionally, the FDAphysically inspectsfacilities of at least 1,200 foreign food suppliers per annum. Foreign countries or suppliers that deny entry are automatically refused access to the US market.
With this food inspection scheme,US importers are responsible for identifying and evaluating the myriad of potential food product hazards and verifying that the items they import are not adulterated.
Consequently, Vietnamese food suppliers are now subject to a growing number of compliance costs, such as onsite auditing, sampling and testing, and validation studies for multiple biological hazards for their products.
Speaking at a recent forum in Hanoi, Dao Duc Huan from the Institute of Policy and Strategy for Agriculture and Rural Development bemoaned the FSMA inspection system saying it hinders food exports to the US.
It was clear from the comments of Mr Huan that he has little to no concern for food safety and believes food suppliers to the US market should be put on the honour system for ensuring their products are not harmful.
He also complained about the FSMA strict rules of origin requirement saying they are unnecessary.
The problem, of course, said other experts at the forum, is that US consumers demand and have a right to know the origin of their food—and that origin must be clearly identified on products and labelling.
Nestor Scherbey, senior advisor to the Vietnam Trade Facilitation Alliance in turn was supportive of the FSMA inspection scheme, noting the importance for Vietnamese suppliers to not only produce safe food, but demonstrate this fact through rigorous inspections.
Fruit, vegetables, fish and fishery products are all now coming under closer scrutiny under the FSMA, which is aimed at minimizing food safety risks or hazards in processing, packaging and transportation.
The days of Vietnamese companies simply putting a product on the market with little concern for food safety or the desires of the consumer are now history, Mr Scherbey acknowledged.
If companies in the food segment want to export their products to the US or other markets such as the EU, they must up their game and be prepared to demonstrate unequivocally that their products meet with the highest of quality standards.
This means, said Mr Scherbey, that Vietnamese companies must work closely with US importers to insure they understand what is required of them and of the best practices to follow in complying with food safety regulations.
Neither can cost be considered a factor in the discussion of food safety, as the US consumers demand these food safety inspections and are more than willing to pay for their cost.
Without question, Vietnamese food suppliers must committo the FMSA inspection scheme, he underscored, noting that any additional costs for complying with food inspections, should simply be added on to the sales price and passed on to the US importer.