Seafood sector unprepared for Food Safety Modernization Act, trade experts warn

Trade experts speak on a panel at the 2024 Seafood Expo Global in Barcelona, Spain
Trade experts speak on a panel at the 2024 Seafood Expo Global in Barcelona, Spain | Photo by Nathan Strout/SeafoodSource
6 Min

Trade experts warn that the U.S. seafood industry is not ready to comply with traceability requirements in the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which are set to go into effect in 2026.

Passed in 2011, the FSMA represented a major overhaul of America’s food safety laws that gave regulatory agencies more tools and authority to ensure food products adhere to rigorous standards. Of particular concern for the U.S. seafood industry, which relies heavily on imports, is Rule 204, which increases food traceability requirements.

Currently, the government plans to begin enforcing the law fully in less than two years.

At the 2024 Seafood Expo Global in Barcelona, Spain, which took place from 23 to 25 April, trade experts raised a caveat that the seafood industry was largely unprepared for the law's implementation. In fact, many companies simply don’t believe the legislation will go into effect, despite guidance from the Food and Drug Administration, Trace Register President Heath England said during the “Regulatory Pitfalls and Traceability Requirements for Exporting Seafood Into the U.S. Market: What You Need to Know” panel. Trace Register provides supply chain traceability guidance to seafood suppliers.

“There are some people running around going, ‘Well, the law will get repealed or something can change.’ There is a very slim chance that enforcement date might get moved, and I certainly wouldn’t count on it because they’ve given us quite a lot of time,” England said. “It’s important to understand: This is already law."

England said seafood producers are misguided when they tell him they expect their brokers to deal with it.

“There’s information that a manufacturer or a producer must generate and keep if they wish to do business in the U.S. [under FSMA],” England said.

Specifically, all seafood products covered by the law will have traceability lock codes (TLCs) assigned at initial harvest, documenting their origins. Those codes can only be changed when the product is transformed.

“The whole purpose of this scheme was so that if you have a product and know the TLC, you can jump all the way back to the producer,” England said. “Immediately, you know where it came from and what it was.”

The FSMA extends traceability requirements to many businesses that didn’t need to be involved in the process before. The act is possession-based, not ownership-based, England said, meaning the traceability information needs to come from wherever the physical product is located.

That could pose a big challenge to logistics services, according to England. While transportation is exempt, businesses such as third-party cold storage providers will need to keep the TLCs of products in their facilities – something they don’t have to do now.

In mid-April 2024, Trace Register announced a partnership with ReposiTrak to provide compliance services for Rule 204 traceability. The two companies will now share data, allowing seafood suppliers to easily pass on FDA-required data to retailers and wholesalers. ReposiTrak has a network of 30,000 companies, including 1,000 seafood suppliers.

“FSMA 204 compliance is possible without the need for new work – or rework – in our already taxed supply chains,” ReposiTrak Chairman and CEO Randy Fields said in a statement. “The ReposiTrak traceability network translates and organizes the data in the same way for seafood as it does for other FSMA 204 categories like produce and deli, providing the retailer or wholesaler with the same trusted transparency across the board.”

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