Let’s play a game. Ok, so you are a company making your way in the game of globalization, where you navigate through rising fuel costs, demands for sustainability, government bureaucracy, etc. Your freight is moving in the water, heading towards its destination, you’re doing alright. But, wait! Your last roll dictates that you have an increase in demand for the same product due at the same time as your ocean freight. You have two options, pay the cost of air transport or lose the client to whom you are selling. You decide to pay for the air transport. So things are running smoothly, and as you progress along the board, you land on a space that requires you pull a card from the dubious “Government Bureaucracy” deck of cards…yay! You pulled your card to find out that all your imports are put on hold by the FDA! You are asked to roll one more time to determine how long your products will be placed on hold…oh, awesome, a full twelve days. Twelve days on hold, for what reasons, you have yet to find out.
You don’t have to buy this game to find out what happens next. It’s probably already in play except the FDA actually charges a $224/hour re-inspection of your imported cargo without really providing clear reasons. The Food Safety Modernization Act, signed by President Obama in January 2011 began imposing re-inspection fees October 1st of this year. “It aims to ensure the U.S. food supply is safe by shifting the focus of federal regulators from responding to contamination to preventing it.” Since it is an obvious goal of the FDA, why are they assessing these fees? When I asked Noah Munoz to comment on this, he was just as lost as I was, but did say that, “The FDA is a type of agency that does not have the manpower that Customs Border Patrol has, but the way they have been conducting their line of business has been kind of backwards.” When asked to give an example, Munoz explained that FDA inspections officers are specifically for ocean or air, two separate divisions examining the same type of cargo. Munoz shared an experience where two imports of the same product were on hold—one ocean and another air—and samples from the ocean were taken first, though the air cargo arrived first. They ended up taking two samples of the same product from the same company and importer at different times, without the officers comparing notes.
Room for improvement? Well, according to Noah, “Don’t take it on a case by case basis” referring to the FDA ‘s practice of not looking at the importer’s record or history, which would indicate if there were any compliance issues or problems with said importer in the past. Since they currently do not provide reasons or feedback why cargo is on hold, nor does there seem to be clear levels of priority between hot cargo and other cargo, some transparency would also be appreciated.