Foreign, domestic suppliers face more scrutiny
A proposal that would require food processors to vet foreign suppliers will probably apply to domestic suppliers eventually, according to industry experts.
Last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposed a rule under which food manufacturers would have to analyze and control risks associated with foreign imports.
The agency initially wanted the verification program to encompass domestic suppliers, but that plan was dropped for economic reasons, said consultant David Acheson, a former official at FDA and USDA.
Even so, the agency has the authority to require processors to document their supply chain — and it has shown an interest in using that power, he said.
“Pay attention to this, even if you’re not an importer, because this is what I think you will have to do,” Acheson said at the Northwest Food Processors Association conference in Portland, Ore.
There’s a good chance the FDA will include domestic suppliers in the final version of its regulations due to trade considerations, said consultant Charles Breen, a former FDA official.
Otherwise, the rules might be considered a non-tariff trade barrier, he said. “You can’t have a process for foreign firms that doesn’t apply to domestic firms.”
It’s also likely that verification will affect U.S. food exporters, as foreign buyers may set up similar programs, Acheson said.
“I think we will see reciprocity and other countries are going to do this to us,” he said.
For farmers, such verification could present an opportunity to differentiate themselves as “best in class” in terms of food safety, said Acheson.
Growers can stand out to processors by demonstrating a thorough understanding of “good agricultural practices” and proposed produce safety regulations, he said.
Farmers who are able to comply with a risk analysis similar to that of foreign suppliers will be seen as more competitive, Breen said.
“If you meet these same standards, you will reduce your risk profile as a supplier,” he said.
Under the proposed foreign supplier verification program, food manufacturers would have to determine if suppliers comply with U.S. food laws, either themselves or through a third-party auditor.
Processors would also have to analyze the hazards associated with imported ingredients, figure out how to control those risks and verify that preventive steps are followed.
Acheson said manufacturers should rank their ingredients and suppliers based on risk, then concentrate on mitigating the greatest hazards.
“Through a series of questions, you can begin to apply metrics to it. We’re trying to balance our resources with the risk,” he said. “You’re looking at your suppliers and saying they’re not all created equal.”