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American Shipper

FDA to process 25,000 food import prior notices daily

FDA to process 25,000 food import prior notices daily

   The U.S. Food and Drug Administration expects to process about 25,000 prior notices daily when its new food import rules take effect Dec. 12.

   The new regulations require the submission of prior notices for food imports to the FDA before these goods are permitted to enter the country. The regulations take into account the different modes of transportation: two hours for arrival by truck, four hours for arrival by air and rail, and eight hours for arrival by ship.

   “The timeframes for submitting prior notice are the least amount of time that FDA needs to meet our statutory responsibility to receive, review, and respond to the prior notice submission,” said Lester M. Crawford, the agency’s deputy commissioner to the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee in testimony Nov. 19.

   These measures are required under the Bioterrorism Act, which Congress passed to better protect the nation’s food supply against terrorist attacks. The FDA oversees about 5.4 million food import entries a year.

   “We have expanded FDA’s presence at ports of entry, increased surveillance of imported goods, increased domestic inspections and enhanced our laboratory analysis capacity,” Crawford told the committee.

   “More specifically, within the last two years, we have more than doubled the number of ports that have an FDA presence from 40 to 90 ports,” he said. “We have increased by more than six-fold the number of food examinations at the border.”

   During fiscal year 2003, ending Sept. 30, FDA conducted 78,569 food import exams compared with 12,000 two years ago.

   Crawford praised the increased cooperation between the FDA and the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection. Most food imports may comply with the prior notice requirement by using Customs’ Automated Commercial System or FDA’s Prior Notice Interface system.

   Crawford said it's FDA’s goal to implement the prior notice regulation with “minimal disruption to current entry practices.”

   To strengthen their cooperation, FDA and Customs plan to sign a memorandum of understanding to permit Customs inspectors to serve on the FDA’s behalf at ports where FDA does not have staff or to help augment existing staff. “This ability to utilize CBP staff was a key factor in our ability to shorten the amounts of time required for prior notice,” Crawford said.

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