The problem, according to Ramsey’s colleague Bryan Fort, CPP, corporate security manager at McCormick, mainly resides with small and mid-sized importers, who may not be as cautious as large multinational corporations when sourcing because of resource constraints. And it’s these types of businesses that the FSVP primarily targets, says Kennedy. “What much of FSMA does is raise the floor,” he says. “It’s getting everyone onto what is generally recognized as an appropriate level of performance.”
One reason large food importers supported FSMA was because it raised the standards for smaller importers who may not source their products and ingredients as meticulously as the big boys do, say industry insiders. “The major food companies were all about trying to drive this forward in a way that wouldn’t impact them negatively,” says Acheson. “It was built not to make the best even better. It was to take people who were substandard, causing problems, and get them up to the standards of the best.” (Of course, some of the large companies have also been caught up in food safety supply chain problems, such as the melamine incident.)
Before FSMA was introduced in Congress, Pam Bailey, the president and CEO of the powerful Grocery Manufacturers Association, called on lawmakers to give the FDA the powers it eventually received.
Creating such a floor was in the self-interest of big food companies: when a food scare occurs, the guilty aren’t the only ones who suffer. During the salmonella-contaminated peanut butter scare of early 2009, for example, peanut butter sales slid 25 percent, reported The New York Times. It didn’t matter that the contamination was traced to just one plant in Georgia, owned by the Peanut Corporation of America, and didn’t affect other companies’ products. In response to steep sales declines, J. M. Smucker Company and ConAgra Foods, the makers of Jif and Peter Pan, took out ads in newspapers across the country to reassure customers of their peanut butter’s safety.
By June 2012, the FDA must establish the VQIP for importers who voluntarily allow third-party auditors to certify that their suppliers’ facilities meet U.S. standards. Qualifying companies get to speed their imports through a “green lane” at ports of entry.
Admission to the program is based on at least seven factors, including the known safety risks of the food to be imported, the adequacy of the exporting country’s regulatory system, and the importers’ compliance with FSVP. Importers that get accepted into the program will have a way to mark their products with a VQIP certificate so that they receive expedited review and entry into the country. It’s all part of rewarding those companies who go above and beyond the call of duty, says Veneziano.