Coalition forming against food-safety fee; legal action threatened

The head of a consulting firm for importers is assembling a coalition of food manufacturers and importers to oppose a proposed fee created by the new food-safety law.

The Food Safety Modernization Act enacted earlier this year allows regulators to impose a fee on food importers if federal inspectors have to re-examine a shipment that appears to be contaminated. The Food and Drug Administration proposed a $224 per hour re-examination fee earlier this month, but Benjamin England of FDAImports.com said the regulation is so broad that it exceeds FDA's authority under the law. 

He argues FDA did not succeed in getting a user fee in the law, so regulators are broadening the definition of an initial examination to cover activities that don't require an actual physical examination. These include "reviewing sample results from a third party, reviewing any relevant epidemiological evidence, reviewing a third party facility inspection, and almost any activity related to an FDA import alert," according to England.

The FDA says the regulation would allow the agency to determine instances of non-compliance with the law and impose a fee to help reimburse resources expended to determine whether the non-compliance has been corrected.

"My feeling is that there are a lot of small companies that would be seriously by this," England told The Hill. The result, he predicted, would be higher food prices for consumers because of the food industry's tight margins.

England said he has already gotten a "couple dozen" responses within 24 hours of putting out his proposal for a coalition of small importers. He says the coalition should "prepare for legal action against FDA should no changes occur to FDA's proposed fees."

The fee is scheduled to kick in Oct. 1.