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Friday, 4 January 2013

The New Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was passed by Congress on December 21, 2010, and signed into law by President Obama on January 4, 2011. The Canadian Safe Food for Canadians Act (SFCA) received its Royal Assent on November 22, 2012. Both empower the regulatory inspectorate to implement a science-based system to address food safety hazards and represent another small positive effect pre-occupation to cause excitement within the food industry:

Here are my predictions:

5, 10, 20, years from now, the FDA-FSMA, the Canadian Safe Food for Canadians Act (SFCA) that received its 
Royal Assent on November 22, 2012,  and similar proposals elsewhere will not produce any significant reduction in the number and scope of recalls that we are seeing today. Disappointment awaits us if these initiatives are pursued without serious modifications to address the points listed below and other limiting factors that are implicit in the current proposals. Even from a cursory look at the contents of some of the proposed regulations, enough reasons can be found that support this prediction:

* The proposed regulations are excessively punitive while the enforcement agencies have inadequate resources to enforce them.

* They also lack provisions for ensuring the necessary and adequate education and culture change within the industry and the consuming public.

* Many of the rules are too vague (generalized or generic) and leave too much room for confused interpretation, deliberate misinterpretation and manipulation.

* The regulations are driven more by political agendas than by genuine consideration for the consumers.

* The focus is too narrow (mostly on food production, manufacturing and distribution businesses to the neglect of other significant parties – e.g. the roles of restaurants, canteens and consumers).

* As is typical with all laws and regulations, they are inadequately suited and they lack strategies to effectively address a key cause of contaminated products (the enigma of human tendencies: greed, selfishness, laziness, forgetfulness, lack of awareness, criminal intents, etc.)

More reasons can be cited but these alone are sufficient reasons for the prediction that these initiatives will keep the industry busy for sure but will have little to no substantive evidence of success. 
It is also not likely that the right things will be measured.

Regulatory non-compliance may be deterred to some degree by strict enforcement of rules and punitive measures but the greed for profit is often stronger. The general experience world wide shows that in many cases where or when regulatory scrutiny is intensified with a focus mostly on punishing the deviants, unscrupulous players are either driven underground or they are driven into "catch-me-if-you-can" scheming and corner-cutting pre-occupation. These same players may fly flags that say: "Food Safety and Quality Certified". Meanwhile, the scheming continues to the detriment of consumers and honest players. Perfectly law-abiding players may struggle to pay the costs of inspections and audits that they must be subjected to because of the unscrupulous bandits. It is and will remain a crazy world of superficial accreditation, intimidation, litigation, growing cut-throat competition, and enmity among  participants, if strategies for ensuring genuine collaboration are not urgently pursued.

Regulating the industry is important but, in order to achieve substantive success in dealing with the issues it faces, the industry mostly needs: education, training, technical assistance and, in some instances financial assistance. Above all, considerations and strategies that enhance the moral health of society are essential.  

Also read the post on: Health of Nations.
Posted by Felix Amiri

Felix Amiri is currently the chair of GCSE-Food & Health Protection, and a sworn SSQA advocate. 

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