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Ever since the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed into law in January 2011, we have heard that it represents the most significant change to US food safety law for decades, or variations on that theme. I’ve seen descriptions ranging from “fundamental overhaul” to “historic revolution.”
For the petfood industry, one reason FSMA signals such a substantial change is that for the first time, animal feed (including petfood) will be regulated more similarly to human food. But whether we’re looking at food for humans or animals, perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of FSMA is that it signifies a “seismic shift” in how the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) views food safety and its role in ensuring a safe food supply.
That characterization comes from John T. Shapiro and Jason R. Klinowski, writing on FoodSafetyMagazine.com about yet another delay in FDA’s issuing new regulations in seven key areas, including risk-based preventive controls for animal feed/petfood. The authors are now reporting that a federal court has extended the deadline from May 20 to June 10 (next week) for FDA to submit a new schedule for release of those regulations.
However, the main point of Shapiro and Klinowski’s article is that in May, FDA did meet another FSMA-required deadline: submitting a report to the US Congress on how the agency plans to implement FSMA. (Well, actually, FDA missed that deadline by a few months—it was supposed to be January 2013—but that beats the nearly 12 months it’s behind on releasing the new regulations, which were all supposed to be out by July 2012.)
The “Report to Congress on Building Capacity to Implement the FDA Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA),” while a rather lengthy title, does aptly describe what it is. And it represents that seismic shift in the food safety paradigm that Shapiro and Klinowski refer to, because it provides an overview of how FDA intends to direct the system “from reacting to food safety problems after they occur to preventing contamination and foodborne illness before they happen, holdups and setbacks notwithstanding,” the authors write.
The report, available on FDA’s website, includes many goals the agency is setting for itself and this newly proactive food safety system. Shapiro and Klinowksi highlight three areas—standard setting and guidance, inspections and compliance, and imports—that they believe can help food companies and suppliers “better understand the food safety rules that currently or are likely to govern the manner in which they do business.” This overview should help petfood manufacturers with their food safety plans, too.
In the June/July issue of Food Safety Magazine, authors Sonali Gunawardhana and James N. Czaban further expand on this shift in attitude and activity by FDA. In their view, the agency is not moving just from reactive to proactive/preventive mode but also transferring the ultimate responsibility for food safety from federal regulators to producers, both domestic and international.
The authors quote Michael Taylor, FDA deputy commissioner for foods, recently commenting on the agency’s new strategy:
“Stated in the simplest terms, the recognized solution to the problem of foodborne illness is a comprehensive prevention strategy that involves all participants in the food system, domestic and foreign, doing their part to minimize the likelihood of harmful contamination. And that is the strategy mandated by FSMA. It is not a strategy that assumes we can achieve a zero-risk food supply, but it is a strategy grounded in the conviction that we can better protect consumers and the economic vigor of the food system if everyone involved implements reasonably available measures to reduce risk.”
I’m not sure I interpret from that statement a complete transfer of food safety accountability from FDA to producers—or what Gunawardhana and Czaban refer to as the primary responsibility—but it is clear that FSMA now requires more from food companies, whether human or animal food, to help ensure safe supplies. With the imminent release of new regulations, petfood producers should take notice and, more importantly, take action.