There has been much discussion over the years about whether meat that comes from other countries should be labeled as such. Underlying questions about oversight and safety often surface in those discussions. So, who’s responsible for making sure meat imported into the U.S. is safe and wholesome? Let’s take a look.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) regulates meat, poultry and egg products. All remaining foods are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). There are different requirements for different types of imported food.
While the FDA relies on point-of-entry inspection, FSIS works with the importer’s government. A three-part process verifies that countries seeking to sell certain products in the U.S. have food safety systems similar to ours.
An entity wanting to import meat, milk or egg products into the U.S. must first file an application. The FSIS reviews it and decides whether the foreign food regulatory system is equivalent to ours and provides the same level of public health protection.
If so, FSIS sends a team of experts to that country to conduct an on-site audit of its regulatory system to make sure the country has implemented laws, regulations, and other inspection or certification requirements cited in its application.
FSIS then publishes a proposed regulation suggesting the country be added to the list of eligible importers. Here’s where the public can get involved. There is a period of time during which the government is required to collect public comments that will be taken into consideration before a final decision is made. Anyone with an opinion can submit a comment.
Another aspect of food from abroad coming into the U.S. falls under the venue of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in cooperation and coordination with the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). I’ve heard of people getting upset when food items they attempt to bring home from a trip abroad are confiscated and thrown away. There’s a good reason for this.
All decisions about the admissibility of animal products are dependent on disease conditions in the country they came from, as determined by APHIS. As a general rule, if products are cooked and packaged in a way that does not require refrigeration (cans or other sealed containers) and they are not from a country affected by diseases such as Avian influenza, Mad Cow or Foot and Mouth, they may be admissible.
Even if you’re certain a food item is safe to bring into the country, you must declare it. To do otherwise could result in up to $10,000 in fines and penalties.
It’s impossible to know in advance about the admissibility of specific food items because conditions change. Disease outbreaks that impact the admissibility status of fresh and packaged food items may occur anywhere in the world at any time. The best source for the current known disease outbreaks can be found on the APHIS website.
Here in the U.S., we’re lucky to have so many choices when we shop for food. Imported products provide even more choices. It’s important that we have systems in place to provide assurance that all food products, regardless of origin, are safe and wholesome.
I welcome your thoughts and questions. Please feel free to send me an email at AskDrDorman@pahc.com or call me at 844-288-3623. You can also browse our Resource Library to learn more about this important topic.