New fee has U.S. importers on edge

By

Steven Hedlund

Published on
August 10, 2011

U.S. seafood importers are bracing for a new fee that, when it goes into effect on 1 October, will significantly increase the cost of examining product suspected of a food-safety violation.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is currently accepting public comment on an 1 August Federal Register notice announcing fiscal 2012 fee rates as part of the Food Safety Modernization Act, which was signed into law by President Obama on 4 January.

Beginning on 1 October, the FDA will begin charging food importers a fee, based on an hourly rate, for any “re-examination” of product, which is required when the FDA discovers a food-safety violation during an inspection. The fee is USD 225 per hour, USD 335 per hour if foreign travel is required.

According to FDAImports.com, “first examination” is so broadly defined by the FDA that virtually every imported food detained for an apparent food-safety violation will be subject to the new fee because it’s classified as a “re-examination.”

The FDA lists four examples of when an importer can expect to pay the fee: when a food is reconditioned or relabeled to address a food-safety concern; when an importer is seeking release of an imported food that the FDA has detained, including automatic detentions; when an importer or foreign food manufacturer petitions the FDA requesting removal from an FDA import alert; and when the FDA supervises destruction of goods it refused.

“The FDA appears to be looking at this fee requirement as a simple means to capture additional operational funds through a user-fee system rejected by Congress in other food-safety bills,” according to an 11 August posting on FDAImports.com, which was founded by Benjamin England, an attorney and 17-year FDA veteran.

“If it takes the FDA a total of 4.5 hours to review documents for an imported shipment of seafood that is on import alert, detain that shipment, review private lab analyses, file the records and release the shipment, then not only would I be shocked at the short amount of time spent on those activities, but the importer would be shocked to receive a bill from the government for USD 1,008, perhaps, per invoice line, if the shipment could not be composited,” said England in an e-mail to SeafoodSource.

“This is in addition to private laboratory fees, storage fees, delays in inventory delivery, etc.,” he added. “Because I am no doubt underestimating how long it takes FDA to work through these steps, my expectation is that the fees will likely be in the USD 1,500 to USD 2,000 range per line, at least.”

Around 85 percent of the U.S. seafood supply is imported.

Public comment on the new fee rates is being accepted though 31 October. The fee will be in effect through 30 September 2012.

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