“Why let people sick and respond to it while we could actually prevent it with resources we have?” – Perhaps this was the thought the USFDA regulators had when they were drafting the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
When I was conducting my research on the food safety testing market, I was really surprised to find the burden of foodborne illnesses in the USA. The CDC points out that annually, about 46 million Americans get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 dies from foodborne illnesses.
How did this happen in such developed, systemized, and well-respected country? Maybe the regulations are just not accurate enough to address the real situation in the food industry?
Released in 2011, FSMA shifted the nation’s focus from responding to the food safety cases to preventing them. The regulation covered the safety of the entire food supply chain emphasizing on preventive controls and making the whole supply chain responsible for ensuring food safety.
Over 7 years after the release of FSMA, what was its real impact on the food supply chain?
Turns out, hauling the food safety system is no easy task. Stakeholders need to tackle many challenges, including FDA and food processors, especially SMEs and farms with limited funding.
During my research, I came across with an article published in Food Safety Magazine, that offered many insights related to how food processors are struggling to change their food safety management systems related to multiple aspects including allergen control, individual training, and documentation.
The demand for food safety testing products and services in North America is estimated to be over $5 billion, accounting for more than 40% of the global food safety testing market. The demand is expected to grow significantly in the future as FDA enforces FSMA requirements in phases.
It is interesting to note that the impact of FSMA will not be limited to the domestic food industry alone. Suppliers outside the USA who export food and food ingredients to the USA will also face the pressure to be in compliance with FSMA.
FSMA seems to have recognized the role of imported food in the USA, as evident from the inclusion of the Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP) in FSMA. In fact, imported food and food ingredients constitute a major share of the American diet.
For instance, 80% of seafood and 60% of fruits and vegetables available in the USA are imported, valuing over $2 trillion, from more than 150 countries. APAC accounts for a considerable percentage of these imports. USA is an important export market for food manufacturers in APAC region, that many food processors are taking steps to comply with FSMA even though the regulations are complex, costly to implement, and hard to maintain.
Under FSVP, importers in the USA are responsible to review the FSMA compliance status of the foreign suppliers from whom they are sourcing food, which includes conducting a hazard analysis, verifying supplier activities, taking corrective actions if necessary, and keeping records of the programs. Basically, FSMA regulations on food safety standards are applicable equally to food companies within and outside the USA, if they intend to supply to consumers in the USA.
The casual, ‘whatever’, approach towards food safety typically shown by food processors in developing countries is slowly changing as they need to build a sustainable FSMA compliant food safety system to retain the USA as their destination of export. This is because FSMA places the burden of ensuring food safety on importers, who are forced to ensure that their supply chain is also in compliance.
Despite challenges, FSMA has produced some positive impact in many Asian countries including China, India, and many South East Asian countries. China, for example, is raising food safety bar as importers from developed countries are demanding more clarity, transparency, and safety in the food supply chain. This results in various collaborations and enforcement efforts such as cold chain transport training, food inspection establishments, pesticide package disposal, as well as FDA inspections. As a result, the country’s food safety testing market is rising fast at close to 10% CAGR, the fastest among Asian countries.
Harmonization of food safety standards to keep up with FSMA have been started in Southeast Asian countries as well. For instance, in fresh produce-exporting countries such as Indonesia and Thailand, the demand for FSMA training in compliance with FSVP is growing. To fulfill these demands, multinational companies such as SGS are offering training programs on FSMA compliance and PCQI qualification.
While FSMA has been a positive game changer for many countries, the cost associated with FSMA compliance is too high for many small and medium players in emerging markets. In my humble opinion, the best way to approach FSMA compliance would be to slowly incorporate the laws, starting from training the manpower in these companies. New companies may be able to implement the requirements from the beginning while companies with established processes would face issues to change the systems and mindset of their workforce.
During my research, I was intrigued by the global influence USA regulations have. Since it is the largest market for exporters in the rest of the world, US regulatory requirements can trigger big investments by the industry players in the rest of the world markets. Meeting US regulatory requirements become a top priority for those players who can afford to make necessary investments. Basically, with FSMA implementation food safety is not a choice anymore for market players in emerging markets. It is a must for survival in the industry.