The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued a report recommending that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) revise its approach when comparing foreign food safety systems with the U.S. system to better ensure the safety of imported food. Under the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, FDA’s enhanced oversight of food imports includes express authority to implement a system for accrediting third parties like foreign governments and private auditing firms to certify foreign food facilities’ compliance with U.S. food safety requirements. The agency has apparently faced some challenges doing so.

According to GAO, FDA has already started assessing selected foreign food safety systems to determine if they provide the same level of public health protection as domestic resources. But FDA has also stated “that it needs new approaches to improve its oversight of imported food that take into account the entire food supply chain and that it needs to push prevention of food safety risks offshore and leverage the efforts of others to avoid duplication and better target its food safety efforts.”

Since 1998, GAO has reported on the need for FDA to enhance its oversight of imported food products, including seafood, and has recommended that FDA use the tools available to it, such as equivalence, to leverage the resources of foreign countries to ensure exports meet U.S. requirements. “To better leverage the oversight resources of foreign countries and ensure the safety of food imports, the Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Commissioner of FDA to revise FDA’s comparability approach to one that allows for the flexibility of assessing foreign food safety systems for particular food products, such as seafood, when a full comparability assessment of foreign countries’ food safety systems may not be feasible,” the GAO report concludes.