The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has announced a new strategy in how it plans to monitor and inspect food imports.

In a statement released on Monday, Feb. 25, Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and Frank Yiannas, the FDA’s deputy director, said the agency will work harder to ensure that food grown abroad meets the same standards as food produced domestically. One of the new ways the FDA will do that is through the creation of a third-party certification program that will create audit standards to ensure foreign facilities meet American standards.

The FDA also will partner with countries that have food safety guidelines that mesh with the agency’s standards. Agreements have already been made with officials from Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, and work continues on a pact with the European Union.

“By leveraging partnerships between the U.S. and other countries with very strong food safety systems through our systems recognition program, we’re able to prioritize our inspection and border screening activities on foods imported from higher-risk areas,” Gottlieb and Yiannas said. “In turn, we’re better positioned to verify the safety of food products presented for import.”

While the United States only imports about 15 percent of the food it consumes, there are approximately 125,000 facilities worldwide that grow, make or process food for Americans. In addition, portions of the food supply are dominated by imports. One of those is seafood, as the FDA estimates 94 percent of the fish consumed in the country is imported.

The FDA announcement comes less than two weeks after Congress voted to increase the budget for foreign seafood inspections by $3.1 million, or roughly 26 percent. American seafood producers, led by shrimpers on the Gulf Coast, pushed for the additional funding because of safety concerns.

“The FDA must increase inspections of imported seafood to take away incentives to use banned antibiotics in foreign aquaculture,” John Williams, executive director of the Southern Shrimp Alliance, said in a statement. “In the United States, 98.8 percent of imported seafood enters the country without examination. Other major markets are doing a better job of enforcing food safety laws, causing the United States to become a dumping ground for contaminated seafood."

This story was originally published by Seafood Source and is republished here with permission.

Steve Bittenbender works as a freelance journalist based in Louisville, Kentucky. Besides working for SeafoodSource.com as a contributing editor, Steve also works as an editor for Government Security News and as the Kentucky correspondent for the Reuters News Service.

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