(Nov. 7) President Bush said the Food and Drug Administration’s Food Protection Plan, an initiative spurred by numerous food recalls, will help the agency coordinate with other federal agencies to protect the country’s domestic and imported food supply.

Although the document, released Nov. 6, focuses on prevention, at least one key element deals with the aftermath of a pathogen outbreak — giving the FDA authority to issue a mandatory recall. Currently, produce shippers, marketers retailers and other private companies can issue voluntary recalls, but the FDA has no power to mandate bagged salads or other produce be removed from shelves.

“By identifying risks all along the food supply chain, this plan will help prevent the problems from arising, respond effectively if they do, and improve communication with industry and our public,” Bush said Nov. 6 at press event where he talked about both the FDA Food Protection Plan and the administration’s Import Safety Plan.

Bush appointed the Interagency Working Group on Import Safety in July, headed by Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt. The FDA plan is a “science and risk-based approach” to ensure the safety of imported and domestic food, Leavitt said.

“This Food Protection Plan will implement a strategy of prevention, intervention and response to build safety into every step of the food supply chain,” he said at a press event Nov. 6.

The FDA said it will ask Congress for authority:

  • to require controls for food security at points of high vulnerability in the distribution chain;

  • to authorize additional preventive controls for high-risk foods;

  • to require food facilities to renew their FDA registrations every two year;

  • to accredit third parties for voluntary food inspections;

  • to establish a new inspection fee at facilities that fail to meet current good manufacturing practices;

  • to require electronic import certificates for shipments of designated high-risk products;

  • to require new food export certification fees to improve the ability of U.S. firms to export;

  • to provide parity between domestic and imported foods if FDA inspection access is delayed, limited or denied;

  • to issue a mandatory recall of food products when voluntary recalls are not effective; and

  • to enhance access to food records during emergencies.

FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach said the plan, which he said complements the Import Safety Action Plan delivered by Leavitt to President Bush on Nov. 6, calls for effective action before an outbreak occurs.

“Although our agency clearly needs to maintain and enhance its response capacity, the primary goal is to prevent contaminated food from ever reaching the consumer,” said von Eschenbach in a statement to the press.

He said the plan is based on preventing harm before it can occur, intervening at key points in the food production system and responding immediately when problems are identified.