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Ensuring Global Food Safety Through International Regulatory Cooperation

Remarks of Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D.
Commissioner of Food and Drugs
3rd Meeting of the APEC Food Safety Cooperation Forum
Big Sky, Montana
May 17, 2011

Good afternoon—and thank you for inviting me to be here today. It is wonderful to be in beautiful Big Sky, Montana. I’m so pleased to be part of this important meeting and to have the opportunity to discuss our commitment to ensuring global food safety through international regulatory cooperation—and the progress we have made so far.

I’d like to start by congratulating the Forum for continuing to bring together this remarkable coalition. All of us in this room today share a common goal: to advance the critical issue of food safety in APEC and in the global economy…and that is, of course, food safety.

Ensuring food safety matters to all of us, in our professional and in our personal lives.

It is fundamental to the health and well being of individuals and families, to the public health of nations, and vital to the prosperity of the APEC region.

Significantly, it is critical to ensuring the health of the most vulnerable populations—who are at particularly high risk for food borne disease, and many suffer disproportionately from productivity losses associated with food borne illness.

And it is necessary to enable trade in food products among our economies—trade that results in greater prosperity in the region as a whole.

And it is for all these reasons that this Forum is so important. And it represents an admirable level of cooperation and collaboration. Today, government officials representing food safety regulatory agencies, trade agencies, health and agriculture ministries, as well as donor organizations have come together with food safety experts from the private sector and academia to learn and discuss the latest developments regarding best practices and international standards for promoting and managing food safety. And to plot a course for the future.

This type of cooperation and collaboration is essential in today’s transforming world. Globalization has multiplied the scope and scale of our responsibilities—and created unique regulatory challenges for the U.S. and for you, our regulatory partners around the world.

As you know, the realities of our 21st century world have redrawn the path that food navigates to reach our homes.

Today, the supply chain from manufacturer to consumer involves a complex web of re-packagers and redistributors that makes oversight by many agencies—much less one agency—extremely difficult. The APEC region alone accounts for 41 percent of the world population and nearly 50% of global food production.

We must consider the products our consumers use are no longer simply “our” products, but global commodities. We are shopping in a global supermarket, and that makes protecting our consumers a global endeavor.

For regulators, this poses a huge new set of challenges and responsibilities. Truly, today, we must think and act in new ways. And success will require not only a new paradigm, but also new partnerships...across nations and across sectors.

In that spirit, we have tough choices to make about domestic priorities and development assistance efforts. We must make a compelling case for investing in food safety capacity, particularly with developing country counterparts and development assistance partners. And we must be clear about the human and economic costs of not doing so. 
   
A safe global food supply can only be achieved through development of effective food safety management systems, which are essential to the well being of consumers, farmers, processors and manufacturers throughout the APEC economies, and indeed, the world. These food safety systems must be all be based on sound science, sound risk management, and sound risk prevention.

And these food safety systems can only be established and sustained through international regulatory cooperation…joint commitment by all food safety authorities and industries in each economy to engage in a continual dialogue to seek global solutions to support the development and implementation of international standards and best practices to ensure a safe food supply—and facilitate trade.

We need to help each other deliver on regulatory mandates and engage our counterparts in effective risk management and standards development. Each regulatory authority charged with ensuring safe food domestically will have to be more effectively involved in ensuring food safety on an international front as well as in ensuring that its regulatory programs are science based, in accord with our respective international obligations.

As you can see, it is essential that we take the steps needed to meet these unique public health challenges and ensure the health and safety of people all over the world. But no one economy or regulatory authority can do this alone. We must work together.

We at the FDA share these challenges with our regulatory counterparts in other nations—and with all of you. And so we are working to build a public health safety net for consumers around the world that is created, supported, and maintained by global alliances of like-minded and like-missioned regulators.

Enhancing international engagement will allow us to continue to work with leaders around the world to leverage our resources, expand our presence, and create new paradigms to help us meet our regulatory public health missions thus helping economies and companies compete in foreign markets and increasing prosperity in their respective countries or regions.

International regulatory cooperation will move us toward assuring the strength and science base of a country’s food regulatory system, which has the potential for significant impact not only on the public health of a country and its health care delivery system, but also on the country’s economic development.

Investments in science and capacity are uniquely positioned to help grow a country’s economy by increasing high-value jobs in key sectors, fostering innovative products that will drive economic development, and enhancing the safety and value of exports. It can also elevate overall national prosperity and serve as an important tool for national and international security.

In other words, when governments collaborate and invest in strengthening global capacity to produce food and food products that comply with rigorous, harmonized scientific standards and regulatory practices, the benefits extend well beyond any one country’s borders—and well beyond public health.

Doing this will require greater coordination and enforcement of regulatory standards across nations, in accordance with our international obligations, to ensure safety regardless of where a product is produced. We do not need to apply identical regulatory methodologies, but we must adopt a more unified regulatory lens and work together toward the common goals of food safety.

We must also create a modern means to share data globally—and not just pieces of data, but all the data we need as a global family of regulators to really work together and leverage our limited resources. And we must use those data and advanced analytics to proactively identify and prevent problems. Detecting and preventing global problems demands global intelligence sharing and data mining.

In the United States, new legislation was recently passed by our Congress, giving the FDA new authorities and responsibilities to support improved systems for food safety and prevention of foodborne disease. Called the Food Safety Modernization Act, this historic new bill recognizes that we must enlist partners including industry and other organizations, to support the global safety net for food and medical products. This is essential. Regulators cannot—and should not—do it alone.

Furthermore, the Act requires the United States to develop a comprehensive plan to expand the technical, scientific, and regulatory food safety capacity of foreign governments, and their respective industries, from which foods are exported to the United States.

In this realm, we must survey how technical assistance in the global community can bring food safety standards and preventive controls more centrally into food safety efforts and how we can show that ultimately stronger systems lead to more reliable markets.

It is my hope that the Forum, through the Partnership Training Institute Network, can be an effective path to effectively engage with the global community and a mechanism through which we can better help support countries that need technical assistance to develop the capacities, competencies, and institutions they need to be functioning, dependable, integral parts of food products safety and quality assurance regulatory community.

I want to reiterate that FDA is committed to this ongoing effort of ensuring global food safety through regulatory cooperation. We are all in this together.

And together we can work to effectively allocate our resources and leverage partnerships to help lead the effort to strengthen our respective regulatory systems and support capacity building all over the world.

Cooperation must become a standard operating procedure for  21st century food products regulatory authorities. And partnership must become the standard for us all. We are truly engaged, together, in something very important.

Thank you for your commitment, and I look forward to continuing our work with APEC as we strive toward a safer global food supply.

Thank you.