As sweeping reforms mandated by the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) begin to take effect, the new regulations involving testing, validation and other requirements pose critical challenges to expanding food imports to the United States. These and other related legal and business challenges were the focus of a major food industry forum sponsored by Chicago-based law firm Freeborn & Peters LLP.
“The Opportunity – and Challenge – of Expanding Food Imports to the United States” was held recently at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago as the Global Midwest Alliance’s Chicago winter food industry and technology event. More than 100 attendees heard from members of the Freeborn & Peters Food Industry Team as well as a dozen other speakers, including food company owners, government officials, food scientists and business professionals.
“The Midwest is a major center for food manufacturing and processing, and there is no better place to assess the effect of the industry changes than here in Chicago,” said Michael A. Moynihan, leader of the Freeborn & Peters Food Industry Team and Co-Managing Partner of the firm. “We were honored to be able to help present this forum to exchange ideas and insights into these critical issues impacting food imports.”
The Freeborn & Peters Food Industry Team assists food industry clients and related companies in addressing the sector’s complex legal and business challenges.
After increasing by 20 percent over the last decade, food imports into the United States are expected to continue to rise rapidly in coming years due to the growing population, desires and needs of ethnic communities, and Americans’ taste for fresh, organic produce year-round.
According to keynote speaker Dr. Robert E. Brackett, vice president and director of the National Center for Food Safety and Technology at the Illinois Institute of Technology, understanding new requirements of the FSMA will be a major challenge to expanding food imports. Signed into law by President Obama in January 2011, the FSMA aims to help ensure U.S. food safety by shifting the focus from responding to contamination to preventing it. Brackett said the FSMA is expected to cost businesses and the U.S. government $1.4 billion for implementation over the next five years.
Brackett also outlined other existing challenges to imports, including quality control, compliance with regulations especially in new markets in developing countries, finding distributors and retail customers, and foreign tariffs and customs. He added that advances in food production, biotechnology, nutritional awareness and consumer choices also are having major impact on the rapidly changing global food system.
Other trends significantly affecting the food industry that were discussed at theforum include genetically modified foods, food traceability, food portability and the rise of culturally relevant food products, particularly in the Hispanic and Asian markets.
Other presenters and moderators at the event included the following:
--Steven A. Mange, Senior Counsel in the Freeborn & Peters Government and Regulatory Law Practice Group and a member of the Food Industry Team
--Tejas Bhatt, Staff Scientist at the Institute of Food Technologists
--Gene Cahill, Director in the Forensic, Investigative and Disputes Services Practice at Grant Thornton (Chicago)
--Neil Cox, President of the Irish Dairy Board, Inc.
--Dr. Gillian Dagan, Chief Scientific Officer of ABC Research Corporation
--Pedro Maldonado, Director of Hispanic Marketing & Procurement at Central Grocers, Inc.
--Geoffrey Mills, Managing Director, Product Recall Practice at Marsh Global Risk Management
--David Oppedahl, Business Economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago
--Pamela Shields, food, confectionary and food contact packaging industries executive and former General Manager at Menu Inspirations
--Nicholas Spencer, CEO of Spencer’s Foods
--William Weissinger, Deputy District Director in the Chicago District Office of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
Conference attendees included foreign exporters and domestic importers; buyers, purchasing agents and procurementmanagement from a range of food processing companies; local, state and federal regulators; and other diverse groups interested in expanding the international food trade.
Video recordings of the conference presentations are available through the Freeborn & Peters Food Industry Team website.
About Freeborn & Peters LLP: Freeborn & Peters is a 120-attorney Chicago-based law firm, dedicated to providing boardroom level counsel to clients who benefit from the firm’s longtime commitment to the highest levels of responsiveness and individual attention. From its Chicago headquarters, the firm has a global reach, representing the interests of clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies tosmall businesses and individuals in major centers of commerce and industry throughout the world. In a time of lowered borders and expanding markets, Freeborn & Peters continues its legacy of developing innovative legal and business strategies to help its clients maintain sustainable competitive advantages.