(May 29) WASHINGTON, D.C. — Heeding objections from the food industry that separate record-keeping and notification requirements were burdensome and unnecessary, the U.S. government has streamlined reporting requirements.

Now food importers will be able to use a single system — the Customs Automated Commercial System — to alert the Food and Drug Administration and the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection of expected shipments. Previously, the FDA had indicated it was designing its own data collection system.

Now the FDA said importers will be able to provide the required information to FDA using the existing customs system, making it easier for them to comply with the new law.

Food accounts for 20% of all imports to the U.S., and McClellan said the new system will allow inspectors to target inspections more effectively, which should result in better protection against terrorist acts.

The close cooperation between FDA and customs will minimize the business impact on imported food, FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan said in the news release.

Donna Garren, vice president of scientific and technical affairs for the United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association, Washington, D.C., said the consolidated system was what the industry was looking for.

“It indicates the FDA is trying to make an effort to respond to some of the comments of the industry,” she said.

There is still some question on how any additional information needed by the FDA will be added to the template of the customs system.

In the news release announcing the move, the FDA noted that the prior notification requirement for food shipments — a provision of the bioterrorism act passed by Congress in 2002 — will go into effect no later than Dec. 12 of this year.

The FDA is developing a final rule on prior notice of food shipments, which is expected to be published by early October.