FDA agrees to deadlines on food safety overhaul

The largest American food safety update in 70 years will be complete by spring 2016 under the terms of a settlement announced Thursday between food safety advocates.

Seven separate rules under construction at the Food and Drug Administration are designed to shift the national food safety net from a system geared to respond to illness outbreaks to one designed to prevent them.

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The regulations are required by the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act, which set a 2012 deadline for them to be finalized. But the process has been fraught with delays, which prompted the Center for Food Safety (CFS) to file a lawsuit against the FDA over the missed statutory deadlines.

A consent agreement filed Thursday in federal district court in Oakland, Calif., cements a new, staggered set of deadlines for the rules.

“This is a major victory for the health and safety of the American people. The first major update to our food safety laws since 1938 must now be implemented in a close-ended, timely fashion,” said George Kimbrell, the Center’s lead attorney. “That means safer food for American families.”

An earlier federal ruling sided with the advocacy group, directing the agency to complete all of the rules by next year. The agency appealed, and Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods, told The Hill late last year that the court-ordered deadlines would be “enormously challenging.”

As part of the settlement agreement, the FDA has dropped its appeal in exchange for a new set of deadlines, according to the CFS.

Under the new deadlines, regulations for preventative control for human and animal food at factories and warehouses must be finalized by next August. Rules for produce, and to shore up safety of imported food must be complete in the months after that.

Regulations meant to protect against attacks on the nation’s food supply must be in place by the end of March 2016, under the settlement.

 “This is the best possible result, because it provides for robust public participation in the process, yet ensures certainty for its timely conclusion," Kimbrell said.

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