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For Consumers

FDA Builds Closer Ties with Mexico

Tomatoes and avocados

Mexico supplies a significant percentage of tomatoes and avocados (among other FDA-regulated produce) to the United States.

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Many of the goods you use and enjoy every day are imported from Mexico. They include foods such as tomatoes and avocados, FDA-approved medications, and lower-risk medical devices such as surgical drapes and wheelchair components.

In fact, Mexico is the leading exporter of human foods and the second leading exporter of medical devices into the United States. It ranks third in the number of imported lines of animal and human drugs (including antibiotics), biologics, and medicated feed and also is a major exporter of cosmetics and tobacco products to the United States. (A line is each portion of a shipment that is listed as a separate item on documentation submitted when goods are presented for entry at U.S. Customs.)

Foods imported into the United States from Mexico must be produced consistent with U.S. standards, and the Food and Drug Administration works closely with Mexican government regulators to help ensure these foods are safe and fit for U.S. consumption.

To support this regulatory work, and to help facilitate communication with its Mexican counterparts, the FDA, through its Office of International Programs, (OIP) established a local office in Mexico City in 2010. The Mexico office is part of the agency’s Latin America Regional Office (LAO). FDA also has offices in other parts of the world, including China, India, and Europe.

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Supporting Safety Efforts

Mexico is one of the United States’ foremost trading partners: the U.S. exports to Mexico such food products as primary grains and proteins (including chicken and pork), while importing vast quantities of Mexican fruit and vegetables. Working with Mexico on food safety is therefore a top priority. The United States is implementing the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), and produce safety is a big part of that effort. Food safety modernization efforts also are under way in Mexico, so there is an excellent opportunity for progress on both sides of the border.

Fittingly, the Latin American Office in Mexico focuses primarily on protecting the safety of food and animal feed, as well as medical product safety. In 2013, for instance, one of the U.S. outbreaks of Cyclospora cayetanensis, a parasite that causes an intestinal infection, was linked epidemiologically and through tracebacks to leafy greens imported from Mexico.

The FDA and Mexican authorities mobilized to find the source of the infection and determine how it entered the United States, and sent a technical team to conduct an environmental assessment. The team was made up of FDA experts from the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) and the Office of Regulatory Affairs (ORA). It also included representatives of Mexican food safety authorities—the National Agro-Alimentary Health, Safety and Quality Service (SENASICA) and the Federal Commission for Protection from Sanitary Risks (COFEPRIS)—and experts from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

During this collaborative investigation, the Mexico office served as the FDA’s focal point and played a key role in coordinating the communications between U.S. public health agencies and Mexican Food Safety Authorities. “This is a great example of how the FDA and the Mexican government work together in an outbreak investigation,” says Bruce Ross, FDA’s Deputy Regional Director of the LAO, noting that industry representatives also participated in the effort.

“Our office serves as the point of contact for much of the communication between FDA and the Mexican government,” he adds. “We communicate on issues large and small—but always with the goal of protecting public health.”

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FDA, SENASICA and COFEPRIS officials together at the signing of the FDA-Mexico Produce Safety Partnership statement of intent.

Ongoing Activities

The Office of International Programs champions the FDA’s global work to help ensure the quality and safety of products for all Americans. OIP’s approach supports five key goals.

  • Advance cooperation and communications with regulatory agencies abroad;
  • Strengthen global regulatory systems;
  • Collect and share certain intelligence and information of public health importance;
  • Use global data networks and analytics; and
  • Achieve operational, workforce and organizational excellence.

For instance, ever since President Obama signed FSMA into law in 2011—changing the U.S. food safety focus from responding to food contamination to preventing it—the Mexico office has participated in, and organized, outreach events and conferences to inform stakeholders about FSMA and the proposed rules for its implementation. Delivering more than 40 presentations in the past two years alone, the office consistently updates and shares important information with Mexican authorities and industry groups.

Recently, the office helped to facilitate communications surrounding the first official trip of FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., to Mexico. She and other FDA leaders—including Michael R. Taylor, J.D., Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine—participated in a series of meetings with officials of the Mexican government and industry in order to strengthen the agency’s cooperation with its regulatory counterparts.

The Commissioner also signed a Statement of Intent announcing the FDA-Mexico Produce Safety Partnership, which focuses on preventive practices and verification measures supporting compliance with produce safety standards, guidelines and best practices. With this new partnership in place, FDA expects to help improve the safety of fruits and vegetables for consumers on both sides of the border.

“The process of importation is complicated,” Ross explains. “There’s a huge volume of trade between Mexico and the United States in general—not just for FDA-regulated products—and it’s been growing rapidly and substantively since the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) 20 years ago.”

Ross and his staff continue to make strides in improving communication between FDA and its Mexican counterparts. “Our goal right now is to make sure the Mexican authorities are aware of changes implemented under FSMA, and that we are aware of their food safety law amendments. Our presence in Mexico enables us to talk regularly and frequently with our counterparts and stakeholders about key issues related to the products FDA regulates,” he says.

“This communication helps us respond quickly and collaboratively when issues are identified, supporting FDA’s mission to protect and promote the public health,” Ross notes. “In addition, these efforts have resulted in the Mexican government pursuing regulatory actions against its own domestic products based on information we provided.”

This article appears on FDA's Consumer Updates page, which features the latest on all FDA-regulated products.

October 16, 2014

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