Working under tight court-mandated deadlines to finalize a series of Food Safety Modernization Act rules, Food and Drug Administration Deputy Commissioner Mike Taylor said his agency is focusing on three broad themes in implementing the 2011 law: the farm-to-table approach, practical common standards, and holding imports to the same standards as domestically produced foods.
Taylor was speaking to a group of farmers and ranchers from across the country during a workshop at the American Farm Bureau Federation's 96th Annual Convention.
FSMA, Taylor said, codified the agency's farm-to-table approach for food safety, which means everyone from farmers and ranchers, to transporters, food processors, retail outlets and consumers, we all have a role in food safety.
In drafting rules that work for across a broad spectrum of farm type and regions, the agency is aiming to craft consistent standards applicable across the food system while ensuring those standards are workable for everyone.
"It's our job to be clear about expectations-practical expectations-and to work with the [regulated] community to achieve them," Taylor said.
Central to FDA's efforts with FSMA is ensuring imported food is as safe as U.S.-grown food. Currently, FDA inspectors only get a good look at 2 percent of imports. The proposed FSMA rules would shift that onus from FDA to importers who provide verification that the food meets U.S. standards.
In putting all of these rules in place, FDA is focusing on voluntary compliance, rather than enforcement, Taylor emphasized.
"Our operating assumption is that most people want to do the right thing. We'll get a bigger public health bang for our buck if we're working together with stakeholders on implementation," he said. "We really see the agriculture community as a primary constituency, a collaborative partner."
Taylor also touched upon the agency's implementation of a voluntary process to phase out the use of medically significant antibiotics (those used to treat humans for illness) for feed efficiency and animal growth promotion, while retaining their use for the treatment and prevention of specific diseases, under veterinary supervision.
"Most important in transitioning to this oversight is ensuring adequate access to veterinary services," he said. "This is something we're working on with USDA and AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association.)."