USDA, FDA release memorandum of understanding regarding Defense Production Act

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture today released a memorandum of understanding regarding how the two agencies plan to interact during a potential use of the Defense Production Act regarding the production of human and animal food.

The MOU is intended to cover food production other than that under the exclusive jurisdiction of the USDA, and describes how the FDA and USDA will exercise authority over food production facilities through the act's enforcement. On 28 April, U.S. President Donald Trump issued an executive order giving the USDA authority under the law in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, directing the agency to focus on the continued functioning of the meat and poultry industries.

The DPA was established in 1950 and is intended to give the U.S. executive branch the ability to allocate materials, services, and facilities and direct private companies to prioritize orders from the federal government.

The new MOU establishes that the FDA and USDA will work collaboratively, with personnel from each agency meeting “periodically, as appropriate, for the purposes of coordination, evaluation, and review concerning the nation’s food supply during the COVID-19 public health emergency.”

The agreement states that the FDA will monitor the integrity and adequacy of the country’s food supply subject to its regulations, work with stakeholders to identify potential supply-chain disruptions, guide facilities and farms on safety, and in the event that a potential disruption is found contact the USDA to “discuss appropriate action.”

Meanwhile, the USDA will “retain exclusive delegated authority to issue DPA orders or invoke DPA authorities with regard to food resources and domestic food resource facilities.” The organization will also work with the FDA when notified of potential issues, and consult with the agency to issue orders related to food resources and food resource facilities.

Currently, seafood typically falls under the jurisdiction of the FDA in the U.S. One major exception to that rule is siluriformes – such as pangasius – which recently were shifted to the jurisdiction of the USDA.

The National Fisheries Institute, the seafood industry's major trade group in the U.S., soon after the announcement, thanked the organizations for planning ahead on how they would handle using the authority granted by the DPA.

“Recognizing that the FDA draws its jurisdiction from the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and the USDA regulates via the Federal Meat Inspection Act, it is more important than ever to have these vital agencies communicating and collaborating,” NFI President John Connelly said.  “While seafood remains available at grocers and restaurants, we thank the administration for planning ahead.”

Connelly said members of the organization have been successful in maintaining the supply chain, despite the challenges posed by COVID-19.

“NFI members are taking the needed steps to keep our essential workers safe and continuing to provide consumers with healthy seafood,” Connelly wrote. "This memorandum of understanding will benefit frontline food safety and help avoid interruptions that might unnecessarily disrupt seafood production.” 


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