U.S.-Canadian Food Safety:

Opportunities for Sharing Information and Coordinating Inspections

RCED-95-45: Published: Nov 22, 1994. Publicly Released: Nov 22, 1994.

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GAO reviewed how the United States and Canada share information on and coordinate activities for shipments of unsafe imported foods, focusing on whether opportunities exist to make better use of limited inspection resources and thereby increase the likelihood that unsafe imported foods would be stopped from entering the United States and Canada.

GAO found that: (1) U.S. and Canadian food safety officials share information through generally informal agency-to-agency exchanges and cross-border contacts at ports of entry; (2) U.S.-Canadian information sharing efforts focus primarily on shipments of potentially unsafe foods, food shipments refused at one port of entry that may be rerouted to the other port, and inspections of foreign food-processing plants; (3) opportunities exist for the United States and Canada to develop a more comprehensive system for sharing information about shipments of unsafe foods and inspections of foreign food-processing plants and for coordinating these inspections; and (4) improvements in U.S. and Canadian information sharing efforts would enable the two nations to better target their limited inspection resources.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To better ensure the safety of imported foods and to make better use of limited resources, the Secretaries of Agriculture and Health and Human Services should take the lead in developing, in concert with their Canadian counterparts and to the extent necessary with the U.S. Customs Service, a more comprehensive system for sharing crucial information on and coordinating activities for unsafe imported foods. As part of this comprehensive system, the agencies should consider coordinating U.S. and Canadian inspections of foreign food processing plants.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FDA has begun holding trilateral meetings with its NAFTA partners (Canada and Mexico) to find ways to improve communication and operations. In this regard, an FDA working group held its first telephone conversation with its NAFTA partners and additional meetings have been scheduled.

    Recommendation: To better ensure the safety of imported foods and to make better use of limited resources, the Secretaries of Agriculture and Health and Human Services should take the lead in developing, in concert with their Canadian counterparts and to the extent necessary with the U.S. Customs Service, a more comprehensive system for sharing crucial information on and coordinating activities for unsafe imported foods. As part of this comprehensive system, the agencies should consider coordinating U.S. and Canadian inspections of foreign food processing plants.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: At the April 1995 technical meeting of the United States, Canada, and Mexico, the issue of coordinating inspections of foreign plants was discussed. It was agreed to look for opportunities to not only coordinate review activities, but to share the findings of each country's reviews of foreign establishments.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture and Health and Human Services should direct that the Food Safety and Inspection Service and the Food and Drug Administration ensure that available information on rejected shipments being sent to Canada is transmitted to the Canadian government and that information from the Canadian government on such shipments being sent to the United States is consistently followed up.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: USDA has no plans to change the procedures. It believes that strong measures already exist to prevent products from third countries that are rejected by Canada from finding their way into the United States and vice versa.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture and Health and Human Services should direct that the Food Safety and Inspection Service and the Food and Drug Administration ensure that available information on rejected shipments being sent to Canada is transmitted to the Canadian government and that information from the Canadian government on such shipments being sent to the United States is consistently followed up.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FDA has decided to put its import inspection decisions on the Internet, thus providing world-wide access. However, GAO does not believe this is fully responsive to the recommendation because of the lack of a consistent follow-up mechanism.

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