FDA and Bureau of Customs and Border Protection Announce Steps to Streamline Collection of Information on Food Imports

Washington, D.C. May 27, 2003 -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced today that they will streamline the implementation of the prior notice requirements of the Bioterrorism Act (“the Act”) by allowing food importers to provide required information on food imports to both agencies using an integrated process. Under the Act, importers will soon be required to provide “prior notice” about the content of their food imports to FDA, starting no later than December 12, 2003. Since the Act was passed last year, FDA and CBP have worked together to find ways to modify CBP’s Automated Commercial System, currently used to obtain import information required by Customs. As a result of this collaboration, importers, in most circumstances, will be able to provide the required information to FDA using this existing system, making it easier for them to comply with the new law.

Nearly 20% of all imports into the U.S. are food and food products. Congress passed the Bioterrorism Act as part of its ongoing effort to combat terrorism - in this instance, by reducing the ability of international terrorists to carry out terrorist attacks in the U.S. by contaminating imported foods. The Act requires that FDA receive prior notice before food is imported or offered for import into the United States. The advance notice of import shipments will allow FDA and CBP to target import inspections more effectively and help protect the nation’s food supply against terrorist acts and other public health emergencies.

“FDA is dedicated to its mission as one of the nation’s frontline defenses against terrorism. Collaborating closely with CBP is one of the essential steps we are taking to improve the security of our the food supply against new threats, while minimizing the impact on imported foods,” said Commissioner of Food and Drugs, Mark B. McClellan, M.D., Ph.D.

Created on March 1, 2003 as part of the new Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection combines all of the agencies with primary responsibility for the borders, including all 18,000 customs, immigration, and agriculture inspectors at more than 300 ports of entry into the United States.

“The men and women of Customs and Border Protection are the guardians of our nation’s borders,” said CBP Commissioner Robert C. Bonner. “Our primary mission is keeping terrorists and terrorist weapons from entering the U.S. That is why we are partnering with the FDA to protect our nation against the potential of terrorists contaminating our imported food supply. And we are also partnering with the FDA to develop a system that will be less burdensome on the trade while at the same time fulfilling the mandates of the Bioterrorism Act.”

FDA is reviewing the comments submitted on the proposed rule, published on February 3, 2003, and is preparing a final rule. The Act requires prior notice for imported food shipments beginning December 12, 2003. FDA anticipates publishing a final rule in early October.

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