March 13, 2012
Safety of globally-sourced imported food commodities and supplements, and the development of public and private regulatory mechanisms to ensure their safety, were the subject of a broad-based collaborative project at the University of WisconsineMadison. The problems are complex and require a multidisciplinary, systems-based perspective. The project began with numerous seminars and benefitted from a two-day conference in the first year. Many of the insights in this paper were originally inspired by presentations and discussions from that conference with attendees representing the food industry, government regulatory departments, scientific service companies, the legal community, and academics from a variety of areas. Attendees included representation from the European Union, Mexico, Canada, and China. The scope of the problem is global and covers both accidental contamination (where education, standards development and certification, and infrastructure investment would help with prevention efforts), and intentional contamination (fraud and economic adulteration), for which monitoring, traceability, and information sharing might discourage opportunism. A number of examples are cited, and advice for the way forward includes approaches at the global, national, and local levels. Recommendations include: improved local enforcement; private certification of suppliers; monitoring; traceability; education; information sharing at all levels; expanding both public-sector and private use of risk analysis; expanding the reach of the European Union rapid alert system; improved communication and oversight (including border inspection); and maintaining strong private accountability for contamination.