Administration to protect food supply against terror strike

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) moved Friday to safeguard the nation’s food against a terrorist plot or any other attempt to sicken Americans through contamination.

The agency said it is aware of no specific threat of such an attack, and is imposing new regulations on the food industry as a precautionary measure in accordance with the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

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“The goal is to protect the food supply from those who may attempt to cause large-scale public health harm,” said Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods.

“Such events, while unlikely to occur, must be taken seriously because they have the potential to cause serious public health and economic consequences,” he said. “The FDA’s goal is to devise an approach that effectively protects the food supply in a practical, cost effective manner.”

A 170-page draft rule unveiled Friday is the sixth to be proposed under the FSMA, the largest U.S. food safety update in generations. The action comes a day after the FDA announced it would pull back and revise two proposed rules representing the centerpiece of the new food safety strategy.

The draft regulations proposed Friday are aimed at parts of the food industry seen as most susceptible to attack. Under the rule, food facilities would be required to develop written “food defense plans” that address any vulnerabilities in its food production process.

The FDA would require businesses to take steps to shore up any gaps in safety, provide necessary training to protect their facilities against attack and maintain various records.

The action reflects the first time the government has issued regulations designed to stave off an attack. As such, the FDA is asking for public input to shape the final version of the rules.

In particular, the agency is asking about the potential “economically motivated adulteration” of the food supply.

The draft rule would allow for some exemptions, based on business size, sales and certain types of operations such as merely holding or repacking food.

It would not apply to farms and food for animals.

The proposed rule is available for public comment until March 31.