Governing a Global Food Supply: How the 2010 FDA Food Safety Modernization Act Promises to Strengthen Import Safety in the US
18 Pages Posted: 20 Apr 2011
Date Written: December 1, 2010
Food systems worldwide have experienced a significant level of integration in recent decades, creating a global and dynamic food supply. In the US, imports amount to 15% of the American diet and nearly doubled in value during the last decade, reaching $90 billion in 2008. If food imports satisfy a growing domestic demand, they also pose formidable regulatory challenges when it comes to safety. A global food supply may introduce in domestic systems new, non-endemic risks, re-introduce risks that were controlled and rapidly spread contamination across borders. Recent food scares caused by imported foods have highlighted the vulnerabilities of the US food safety system in addressing the risks posed by a global food supply and increased public and private demands for food safety. In January 2011, President Obama signed into law the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, a comprehensive reform bill promising to significantly improve the US food safety system and introduce new instruments to minimise risks at home and abroad. The objective of this article is to understand how a major world economy is responding to the import safety challenge and what institutions and regulations are emerging to ensure the safety of a global food chain. We do so by analysing the new legislation to identify the policy approaches chosen and evaluate their promise and pitfalls. In the absence of a general theoretical model defining an optimal regulatory mix to promote food import safety, our analysis was informed by recent studies on the challenges of import safety as well as research on specific aspects of food safety regulatory policy that we encountered in the reform bill. The results of our analysis highlight a four-pronged approach in the reform bill based on (1) risk-based interventions and prevention; (2) information management and record keeping; (3) third-party certification; and (4) international activities. Several provisions extend the US authority to carry out enforcement and other activities in exporting countries, raising concerns about extraterritorial jurisdiction. Additionally, the reform institutionalises a growing trend where food safety governance derives from public and private regulations. Although reliance on private regulation may be desirable given the advances in safety controls in the private sector, regulators should exercise caution and set up adequate incentives and checks to avoid problems of conflicts of interest and capture.
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