FDA screening of imported food can be improved, GAO says

By Agri-Pulse staff

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WASHINGTON, May 26, 2016 - The Food and Drug Administration is doing a better job of targeting imported food for inspection but still has work to do, a new Government Accountability Office report concludes.

The report looked at how FDA is using the Predictive Risk-based Evaluation for Dynamic Import Compliance Targeting (PREDICT) tool, which “is designed to estimate the risk of imports using information such as the history of the facility, inspection records, and country of origin,” GAO said.

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In 2013, after examining how well PREDICT was working, FDA developed and prioritized 24 recommendations. FDA says it has fully implemented 15 of those, partially implemented six, and not implemented three.

“FDA officials said that the agency has not fully implemented all recommendations because of a lack of resources,” GAO said. “However, federal standards for internal control specify that agencies are to ensure that the findings of reviews are promptly resolved.”

For example, “FDA does not have a documented process for identifying the type of open source data to collect, obtaining such data, and determining how PREDICT is to use the data,” GAO said. “Without such a documented process, FDA does not have reasonable assurance that it will consistently obtain open source data for PREDICT in a regular and systematic manner.” 

FDA, however, told GAO in a letter included in the report that some of the recommendations for PREDICT might be achieved in other ways, such as implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act.

The report noted that the total volume of U.S. food imports under FDA's jurisdiction grew from about 39 million metric tons in 1999 to 67 million in 2014, based on USDA Economic Research Service data.

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“Given the volume of imports into the country, there is considerable potential for violative items - products that do not meet U.S. safety standards or labeling requirements - to enter the U.S. food supply,” GAO said, noting that the agency physically inspects a small number of imported products.

GAO's analysis of FDA data from fiscal years 2012 through 2014 “shows that in general, PREDICT is working as intended: Imported food with higher-risk scores is more likely to be physically examined and to be found in violation of food safety standards or labeling requirements.”

The agency developed PREDICT to help target food shipments deemed higher risk and subject them to additional scrutiny. GAP says FDA's assessment of PREDICT shows that the tool is generally working to focus FDA's resources on the examination of food items determined to be of highest risk and expediting the release of lower-risk food items.

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