In the aftermath of September 11 and in light of more recent events, there is increasing public concern over bioterrorism and its impact on the U.S. food supply. All segments of the food industry, including production, processing, handling and distribution sectors, as well as suppliers to the industry (such as companies supplying packaging materials, chemicals, etc.) are affected by this increased security. The public's heightened concern is reflected by the discussions and activities at all levels of the U.S. federal government, as well as by those within the food industry and the public policy community. This may well translate into potential changes to or disruption in the food chain.
On the legislative front, these circumstances have, among other things, led to the introduction of bills which would consolidate federal food safety activities within a single federal agency; provide the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with mandatory product recall activity; and prohibit the importation of foods from countries designated as supporters of terrorist activities. In the coming weeks, we anticipate that other measures along related lines will be introduced. While several of the issues addressed in these legislative proposals are not new, to the extent that they are now directly associated with "homeland" security issues, they will be evaluated in a dramatically different legislative environment.
On the administration level, informal discussions of food security issues have already been initiated among representatives of the FDA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and other agencies with representatives of various trade associations and other food industry interests. These discussions are expected to continue and be amplified in the coming weeks.
Many individual companies are reevaluating their operating procedures in the context of potential threats of bioterrorism. These activities include, but are not limited to increased security of hazard analysis critical control point (HACCP) programs; enhancements in the physical security of food processing and handling establishments; increased employee security; modifications of policies regarding access of visitors; enhancements in the security of onsite laboratory facilities; more stringent specifications, control and evaluation of incoming raw materials; evaluation of the safety and security of water systems; and overall review and revision of corporate crisis management plans.
McDermott Will & Emery has an experienced team of lawyers with wide-ranging expertise in food safety and security issues. We work extensively with clients in addressing product recall and other crisis management issues, as well as in related litigation. We are also extensively involved with the international trade dimensions of these issues, from importer and exporter perspectives. In addition, we have key contacts in these areas with representatives of both the Legislative and Executive Branches. This wide range of perspectives and experience may be of assistance to a variety of food industry participants as they attempt to address these critical matters in the upcoming weeks and months.