The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been court ordered to set firm dates for FSMA's implementation. Details of the court case forcing FDA to set these dates, and the organization that sued the FDA to make this happen follow.
The Center for Food Safety (CFS), a national non-profit public interest and environmental advocacy organization, filed a lawsuit against the FDA on August 29, 2012. The complaint alleged FDA failed to promulgate 7 food safety regulations required by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Congress enacted the FSMA – which was signed into law on January 4, 2011 – to modernize food safety laws and regulations by mandating science-based standards and controls; by providing the FDA with greater authority to prevent and address food safety hazards by taking steps to prevent them from occurring; by strengthening the FDA’s inspection and enforcement powers; and by improving coordination among federal, state, and foreign food safety agencies. CFS documented the foodborne illness outbreaks since FSMA was signed into law, January 4, 2011.
The court case is being heard by Judge Phyllis Hamilton, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Yesterday, May 21, 2013, Judge Hamilton ordered that the FDA and CFS have an extended deadline of June 10, 2013 to file a joint statement with a mutually agreeable proposed schedule for the outstanding food safety rules.
Rationale for Suit and Missed Deadlines
The ongoing battle between the CFS and FDA to complete this process has lasted for several months. On August 2012, the CFS filed a suit against the FDA Commissioner after the FDA missed a series of deadlines for publishing the regulations mandated by the Food Safety Modernization Act. After numerous deadlines went by without the release of the mandated rules, CFS went to court to try to force FDA to adhere to these time constraints. Following the court appearance, Judge Hamilton ruled that the FDA must come up with a new schedule for issuing the proposed rules by May 20. This extension came about as a result of the inadequacy in time provided for the FDA and CFS to resolve their differences regarding the schedule FDA suggested to issue the proposed rules.
The FDA sent its updated schedule to CFS on May 15; however, CFS was not satisfied with the proposed timeline. Due to the fact that there were only five days left until the deadline expired, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation for Extension of Time. This extension was granted by Judge Hamilton.
New Rules Released by FDA & What's to Come
Since CFS filed its complaint last year, FDA has released some of the key FSMA mandated rules it failed to publish on time, including preventive controls for human food and standards for produce safety, both released in early January. However, there are some rules that are yet to be released. Among them is the foreign supplier verification program (section 301). This program is set to overhaul import safety, an establishment of regulations to ensure the safe transport of food products and a rule ensuring neutrality of third-party audits. I think of it akin to C-TPAT (Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism). It's a self policing and auditing type program that includes functions like monitoring records for shipments, lot-by-lot certification of compliance, annual on-site inspections, checking the hazard analysis and risk-based preventive control plan of the foreign supplier, and periodically testing and sampling shipments.
I look forward to seeing and reporting on FDA's implementation of FSMA.