OOIDA calls FDA food safety plan ‘seriously flawed’

| 1/9/2008

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently released its Food Protection Plan, outlining the agency’s strategy for protecting the nation’s food supply chain. After careful analysis, however, OOIDA calls the FDA’s plan “seriously flawed” and of little benefit to addressing food safety concerns faced by truckers.

OOIDA Regulatory Affairs Specialist Joe Rajkovacz said that although the transportation industry is briefly mentioned in the 25-page document as being a vulnerable link for intentional contamination in the food supply chain, there still are no real answers for truckers left “holding the bag” in the ongoing food safety debate.

“This document is couched with phrases and words that falsely imply the document is proactive with regards to food safety,” Rajkovacz said. “A careful reading of the FDA’s Food Protection Plan leaves little doubt the agency is still dealing from its same deck of cards. It’s just shuffling them around.”

Food safety – a risky business
The FDA proposes that additional legislative authority is needed to allow the agency to “issue regulations requiring companies to implement practical food defense measures at specific points in the food supply chain where intentional contamination has the greatest potential to cause serious harm, such as requiring locks on tanker trucks transporting food.”

High vulnerabilities in the food chain and preventive controls against intentional contamination by terrorists or others wanting to compromise the food supply chain were examined. A risk-assessment computer program known as “CARVER+Shock” was used to assess potential vulnerabilities in “farm-to-table supply chains.” According to the FDA’s Web site, “CARVER+Shock is an offensive targeting prioritization tool adapted from the military version.”

The FDA used “CARVER+Shock” despite a 2007 Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General’s report that cited warnings against using the computer program because it is “unscientific and inexact.” The DHS OIG report further stated that “… the White House has instructed the food sector to use CARVER+Shock as its standard vulnerability assessment tool.”

OOIDA leaders said the use of the computer program speaks volumes.

“The FDA repeatedly states within their food protection plan that scientifically-based risk assessments are to be utilized,” Rajkovacz said. “There is no greater proof of the political meddling, subservience to the industry and lack of taking seriously threats to our food supply than the inclusion of CARVER+Shock as its standard vulnerability assessment tool.

“The FDA’s reliance on CARVER+Shock is completely at odds with both the staff of the Office of Infrastructure Protection and the National Infrastructure Protection Plan, which advocates use of a more rigorous risk analysis and management for critical asset protection protocol.”

FDA officials also proposed that firms be “extended an affirmative defense in civil litigation” if they comply with the still-undefined regulations of “industry best practices,” which would not apply to raw produce.

“These current industry best practices do not address the concerns of produce haulers who are transporting potentially contaminated product,” Rajkovacz said. “Not only that, but they completely ignore the conditions that drivers face at shipping and receiving facilities, which OOIDA provided testimony on to the FDA in April of last year.”

Rajkovacz said this provision would remove a food company’s liability if industry best practices are followed. This provision also doesn’t take into account all avenues of threat or company culpability.”

“This is just another example of how the industry is allowed to call the shots when it comes to food safety,” Rajkovacz said. “This is a document for the status quo with little meaningful federal oversight of the food industry.”

FDA – Untimely recalls?
The FDA plan does address the possible use of mandatory recalls of food products, but only when voluntary recalls “are not effective.”

According to the document, mandatory recalls would be “imposed only if a firm refuses or unduly delays conducting a voluntary recall” and admits there have been situations “in which firms are unwilling to conduct a recall.”

“This is just another area where the FDA has allowed the industry to have control over the food supply chain,” Rajkovacz said. “It’s scary to think how many days companies can drag their feet and allow potentially contaminated product to remain out there in the marketplace before FDA invokes their mandatory authority and demands that companies remove their potentially contaminated products from the food supply chain.”

– By Clarissa Kell-Holland, staff writer