FDA Proposes Stricter Safety Rules For Imported Food

By: CBS News (Posted by Melissa Brunner)
By: CBS News (Posted by Melissa Brunner)

(CBS News) YONKERS, N.Y. -- Stew Leonard is the CEO of a chain of specialty food stores in the Northeast bearing his name.

His customers may be local, but his food is often global.

"The apples are from New Zealand," said Leonard.

Nearly half of the nation's fruit and 20 percent of its vegetables come from abroad.

When the products arrive, they have to be inspected.

"Right now we rely on the Department of Agriculture and the FDA, as far as assuming that the product that comes in meets the standards set by the U.S.," said Leonard.

But under the current system, the FDA screens less than two percent of imported food.

The FDA proposals would require importers to prove that foreign suppliers have food safety programs that meet U.S. standards and give the FDA new enforcement powers to monitor these programs and stop shipments from suppliers that don't follow the rules.

"We have to have clear and explicit standards for all food producers and we have to make sure that industry is really accountable for the food safety practices whether they are in other countries or in the United States," said FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg.

"The key is dealing with a great supplier. Right now, my certification process is I talk to him on the phone, I may go visit him, and I trust them to bring good stuff in. These regulations are going to make it more formal. At the end, it's good for the customer," said Leonard.

It is estimated the new regulations will cost the industry more than $480 million to implement. The FDA says these changes will help prevent outbreaks of food borne illnesses.

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