International Collaboration on Food Safety is a Top Priority for the FDA
In the following Conversation, CFSAN Office of International Engagement (OIE) Director Julie Moss and OIE International Policy Analysts Eric Stevens and Kelly McCormick discuss the importance of engaging with international organizations to the FDA mission.
Why Does CFSAN Partner with International Organizations?
Julie Moss: The U.S. food safety system is one of the most respected around the world. At the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN), we have one goal in mind with respect to the nation's food supply, to promote public health by ensuring that it is safe, sanitary, wholesome, and honestly labeled.
CFSAN experts engage with international organizations for many important reasons. We collaborate to strengthen the global food safety system, to ensure safe and fair trade in food, and to encourage the harmonization of science-based food safety standards. The increased safety assurances this involvement provides are particularly important given the volume of imported food we consume in the U.S.
With which international organizations does the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition engage?
Julie Moss: Of course, we focus on partnering with organizations that align with our public health mission and interests. Right now, we have initiatives with the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the World Trade Organization’s Standards and Trade Development Facility (WTO STDF), and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation’s (APEC), Food Safety Cooperation Forum (FSCF). These global partnerships allow CFSAN to encourage foreign agencies, laboratories, industries, and academic institutions to adopt internationally accepted food safety standards and methods.
Can you share some examples of CFSAN engagement with international organizations?
Eric Stevens: One great example is the relationship we have with the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO is an agency of the United Nations responsible for international public health. The WHO Constitution aligns with CFSAN’s global food safety interests and focus on building partnerships. Through our collaborations we help educate competent authorities in other countries on new technologies to strengthen food safety systems and reduce the threat of foodborne illness. Currently, CFSAN is working with the WHO’s Department of Nutrition and Food Safety (NFS) on several projects in four key areas:
- Foodborne Disease Prevention and Food Safety Strategies
- Food Science and Technology
- Nutrition and Food Security
- Zoonoses and the Environment (reducing animal disease transmission)
Another example is our engagement with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). The FAO is a specialized agency of the United Nations that leads international efforts to defeat hunger. We share their goal of achieving food security for all and making sure that people have regular access to enough high-quality food to lead active, healthy lives.
CFSAN works closely with two FAO groups: (1) Food Safety and Quality Unit; and (2) Land and Water Unit. We have separate cooperative agreements with each group to support and improve systems of food safety and water quality in developed and developing countries. Both efforts are geared to helping reduce foodborne illness.
And a last example from me, and one closely aligned with the WHO and the FAO, is Codex. The Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) is a joint Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO) Food Standards Program that formulates voluntary international standards, guidelines, and codes of practice that make up the Codex Alimentarius or “Food Code.” Codex standards are based on sound science provided by independent international risk assessment bodies or ad-hoc consultations organized by FAO and WHO that help to protect the health of consumers and ensure fair practices in the food trade. The guidelines are voluntary, but they often serve as the basis for national legislation and are specifically referenced in the World Trade Organization's Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary measures (SPS Agreement), which address food safety and animal and plant disease prevention. WTO members can set standards that differ from Codex but they would have to justify those measures scientifically in cases of a trade dispute.
CFSAN participates and exercises leadership in the CAC by working closely with the U.S. Codex Office at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Numerous delegates from CFSAN serve on various Codex committees, including Food Hygiene (where I serve as a co-alternate delegate) and Nutrition and Food Additives. We meet regularly with other CAC member countries/organizations to advocate for science-based international food safety, labeling, and other standards that provide consumer protection, labeling information, and prevention of economic fraud and deception that are consistent with U.S. regulations and laws.
Kelly McCormick: But it doesn’t end there! CFSAN participates in the Working Group and contributes annually to the multi-donor trust fund of the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Standards and Trade Development Facility (STDF). The STDF is a global partnership that supports developing countries in building their capacity to implement international sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) standards, to improve their regulatory oversight systems. It also facilitates the countries’ ability to gain or maintain access to markets by funding innovative, cross-cutting SPS projects and development. The STDF serves both developing and developed economies alike in its role as a global coordination platform, a knowledge hub, and a network for SPS capacity strengthening.
We think of the STDF as an amplifier. With the donor countries and member organizations all contributing financial resources and expertise—what we are able to do collectively goes far beyond the sum of what we would have been able to accomplish as individual countries, agencies, or organizations.
I served as the vice-chair of the STDF Working Group in 2021 and the chair in 2022. It was extremely gratifying to work on behalf of the U.S. and the FDA to build and strengthen the Agency’s collaboration with our foreign partners. Our continued engagement with STDF results in greater information sharing and education about science-based standards.
The FDA has a long history of involvement with the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). APEC is a regional economic forum – represented by 21 economies bordering the Pacific Ocean – established to leverage the growing interdependence of the Asia-Pacific region. All formal APEC meetings and events are hosted by a different economy each year. And the U.S. is the 2023 host. It marks only the third time the U.S. has hosted APEC since it was founded in 1989. This is a critical region for the United States, as APEC economies make up seven of the top 10 U.S. trading partners and they account for more than 61% of U.S. exports and more than 67% of imports.
APEC has a variety of sector-specific working committees and sub-groups and has engagement from the executive through the technical levels of government. The FDA and CFSAN have been actively involved with APEC’S Food Safety Cooperation Forum (FSCF) and Partnership Training Institute Network (PTIN), since their inception in 2008. We provide food safety expertise as well as financial resources to support various workstreams, including Export Certification, Aquaculture Safety, Food Safety Modernization, Laboratory Capacity Strengthening, and Maximum Residue Level or MRL Pesticide Harmonization.
CFSAN is currently leading an APEC workstream with the USDA in an area in which the FDA has great expertise -- Whole Genome Sequencing: Laboratory Capacity Building of Environmental Testing for Foodborne Pathogens. Through our work in APEC, we can promote the adoption of international standards and prioritize important areas of food safety modernization, such as outbreak prevention, innovation, traceability, data sharing, and digitalization.
As with APEC and CAC, does CFSAN engage in other types of interagency partnerships to advance international initiatives as well?
Julie Moss: Yes! Collaboration is key.
We work closely with U.S. government agencies, including the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID); the Department of Commerce; the Office of the United States Trade Representative, and the Department of State to protect the public health by ensuring the safety of the U.S. food supply. We rely on our relationships with interagency partners to work collectively and holistically to strengthen food safety systems around the globe – all toward the goal of producing and trading safe food.
Kelly McCormick: A superb example of this interagency coordination is the Food Safety for Food Security (FS4FS) initiative. FS4FS is a partnership between USAID, USDA, and FDA. The program is designed, in part, to improve food safety, nutrition, and public health in developing countries. The initiative serves as a clearinghouse for information and solutions for the work of global food safety.
As the result of the work we do together, we’ve been able to generate resources such as a Post-Harvest Handling Manual; an online Food Safety Distance Learning Module; and tools via several phases of APEC Whole Genome Sequencing work. CFSAN will continue its engagement in FS4FS to promote food safety policy and regulatory environments in developing countries. This includes institutional, farmer, consumer, and industry readiness to meet international standards, which we view to be critical to the transformation of global food systems.
So in summary, do you envision continued engagement with international organizations in the future?
Julie Moss: Yes! The benefits of maintaining existing and developing new partnerships cannot be overstated. CFSAN’s continued participation and collaboration with international public health organizations, international standard-setting bodies, and our foreign regulatory partners is vital to ensuring greater access to safe and nutritious foods for U.S. consumers and around the world.