Food Law


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Import and Export of Food




To import into the United States, the food must meet the same U.S. requirements as domestically produced food items. Importing food involves several agencies:  FDA, USDA, and Customs and Border Protection (CBP).  It is a collaborative effort among the agencies.

Basic concepts to review:

  • FDA's Import Program System Information
    • "All imported products are required to meet the same standards as domestic goods. Imported foods must be pure, wholesome, safe to eat, and produced under sanitary conditions ...
  • FSIS Import Procedures For Meat, Poultry, And Egg Products; Equivalence Process
    • "Meat and poultry products exported from another nation must meet all safety standards applied to foods produced in the United States. However, under international law, food regulatory systems in exporting countries may employ sanitary measures that differ from those applied domestically by the importing country. The United States makes determinations of equivalence by evaluating whether foreign food regulatory systems attain the appropriate level of protection provided by our domestic system. Thus, while foreign food regulatory systems need not be identical to the U.S. system, they must employ equivalent sanitary measures that provide the same level of protection against food hazards as is achieved domestically. FSIS evaluates foreign food regulatory systems for equivalence through document reviews, on-site audits, and port-of-entry reinspection of products at the time of importation."
  • International Harmonization/Cooperation
    • "The harmonization of laws, regulations and standards between and among trading partners is important to food safety and requires intense, complex, time-consuming negotiations ... Harmonization must simultaneously facilitate international trade and promote mutual understanding, while protecting national interests and establishing a basis to resolve food issues on sound scientific evidence in an objective atmosphere. "


Some details

  • Information Required for Prior Notice
    • Name, business address, telephone, and email of the individual submitting Prior Notice, as well as firm name and address (if applicable)
    • Name, firm name (if applicable) and business address, telephone, and email of the individual transmitting Prior Notice (if someone else is transmitting Prior Notice on behalf of the submitter)
    • Entry type and CBP identifier (if identifier is available)
    • Identification for each article of food in the shipment:
        1. FDA product code
        2. Common product name or market name
        3. Estimated quantity (from smallest package size to largest container)
        4. Lot, code number or other identifier (if food is required to have one)
    • If the food is no longer in its natural state:  manufacturer’s name and either 1) the registration number, city, and country of the manufacturer, or 2) both the full address of the manufacturer and the reason the registration number is not provided (reasons listed in the Compliance Policy Guide for Prior Notice of Imported Food)
    • If the food is in its natural state:  name of grower and growing location, if known
    • FDA Country of Production
    • Shipper’s (sender’s, if food is mailed) name and full address
    • Country from which food is shipped; or, if food is imported by international mail, the anticipated date of mailing and country from which food is mailed
    • Anticipated arrival information (location, date, and time); or, if food is imported by international mail, the U.S. recipient’s name and address
    • Name and full address of importer, owner, and consignee, unless the shipment is imported or offered for import for transshipment through the U.S. under a transportation and exportation (T&E) entry; or, if food is imported by international mail, the U.S. recipient’s name and address
    • Carrier and mode of transportation (except for food imported by international mail)
    • Planned shipment information (except for food imported by international mail)
    • Any country to which the article has been refused entry.  (2011 IFR)





      The general practice is that the importing nation will require that the product comply with all the laws and standards of the importing nation.

      Exporting Food Products from the United States (FDA web site)

      Export Certificates  (explains FDA's minimal but expanding role in issuing export certificates for foods under its jurisdiction)

      • "While FDA is looked to by the U.S. food industry and foreign governments as the competent authority to attest to the safety of U.S.-produced foods, it has neither the legislative mandate to issue export certificates for foods, nor general authority to collect fees for export certificates that the agency may choose to issue on a discretionary basis. Moreover, FDA does not now receive other federal funds that might be transferred to FDA from another agency's fee-supported certificate program in order to provide FDA staff support for inspectional or administrative activities needed to maintain lists of "export eligible firms". Such lists are based primarily on FDA's domestic enforcement and inspectional findings. In some cases, FDA must obtain inspectional information, review the findings and assess the general compliance history of candidate firms before another, fee-supported U.S. agency can issue an export certificate."

        Taken from "FDA-Issued/Supported Export Certificates for Foods"

      • Agencies of the Department of Agriculture (USDA) with responsibilities for food safety and quality and for other food-related issues are currently authorized, in some circumstances, to collect fees associated with issuance of export certificates for designated agricultural products, including foods. The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has authority to collect fees and to issue export certificates for foods under its authority -- meat, poultry, processed egg products -- when a foreign government's requirements are different than those covered by U.S. regulations. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) charges fees for issuance of food-related export certificates pertaining to plant and animal health issues. The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has fee authority for food export certificates for issues relevant to product quality and to certain food safety attributes. The Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyard Administration (GIPSA) collects fees for export certificates for various aspects of grain safety and quality.

      See FSIS USDA Export Information

      "The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Department of Commerce is authorized to collect fees to recover both the inspectional and administrative costs associated with its issuance of export certificates for fish and fishery products under its Seafood Inspection Program (SIP). FDA, as the principal federal agency in the United States responsible for seafood safety, is also requested by the U.S. seafood industry and foreign governments to attest to the safety of U.S. harvested/produced seafood and to issue export certificates. FDA issues such certificates on a discretionary basis, but does not recover any of the administrative costs associated with this activity."

      Taken from "FDA-Issued/Supported Export Certificates for Foods"

      • Also see 21 CFR 1.101 -- recordkeeping requirements for exported products.

      State agencies may also provide the export certificate.

      Traceability is not unique to the United States; see Food and Agricultural Import Regulations and Standards -- EU Traceability Guidelines, EU-25. 2005.


      Codex -- again

      The Codex Commission was organized in the early 1960s by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Who Health Organizations (WHO); both are organizations within the United Nations.  The purpose of the CODEX is to provide a means for representatives from nations to discuss global food issues and global trade of food.

      The Codex has no regulatory authority.  Although national representatives who participate in Codex agree on food standards, these standards are no mandatory; they are merely suggestions for individual nations to consider.  If several nations begin to adopt the standards, those nations will then have "coordinated" (hamonized?) their national standards and the food businesses in those nations should have an easier time to pursue trading because the businesses will be subject to the same standards in each nation.

      In the United States, USDA FSIS has been chosen as the U.S. liasion to Codex.  The USDA FSIS web site provides additional information about the operation of the Codex; see Codex Alimentarius at

      As stated on the web page, Codex relies on committees to conduct its work -- not unlike many organizations with numerous members (Codex COMMITTEES & TASK FORCES).  For example, "General Subject Matter Codex Committees develop standards, codes of practice or guidelines that apply to all commodity committees."  Topics addressed by some of the committees include food additives, food hygiene and food labeling.  These committees appear to be active at this time (2011).

      A second broad category of Codex committees is "Codex Commodity Committees [that] develop standards for certain classes of foods", such as Cocoa Products & Chocolate, Fats & Oils, Fish & Fishery Products, and Fresh Fruits & Vegetables.  Several of these committees are not active at this time; apparently they have completed their tasks (at least for the current time).

      A third broad category of Codex committees is Regional Coordinating Committees, representing Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America & the Caribbean, Near East, and North America & the South West Pacific.  An important role of the regional committees is to consider unique needs of the region.  To appreciate the significance of this role, it is helpful to review several basic considerations.  1) Each nation has the privilege of establishing food laws and standards necessary to protect its citizens.  2) Nations may have unique food safety needs or concerns and thus may impose unique laws or standards.  3) However, nations are not expected to impose unique "food safety" standards in an effort to protect their domestic food industry from competition with foreign food industries. 

      Accordingly, a regional committees is expected to discuss unique needs identified by a nation in its region.  If there is a unique need, it probably relates to several nations in the region, not just one nation.  If a unique need is based on science (rather than an interest in protecting a food industry from competing foreign firms), the regional committee may want to suggest a regional standard that varies the global standard.  In summary, the regional committees are charged with assuring any "unique" food safety needs reflect science-based needs, rather than economic interests.




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