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New bioterrror regulations run counter to common sense.

In April the Food and Drug Administration was again asking for comments on its bioterrorism rules that could make it difficult for U.S. consumers to receive foodstuff from friends and family abroad, while adding little to the nation's safety.

The new regulations, which require prior notification of imported food shipments to the U.S. and registration of food facilities, are the result of the "Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002," passed by the U.S. Congress and signed into law on June 12, 2002.

One of several laws passed in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks, its stated aim was "To improve the ability of the United States to prevent, prepare for, and respond to bioterrorism and other public health emergencies."

However, the rules go far beyond that, possibly making it unreasonably difficult to send items such as chocolate and chewing gum to the U.S.

While most of the regulations apply to food producers and distributors, the requirement of prior notification of any shipments to the U.S. will also include anyone who wants to send some culinary greetings from abroad to their friends and relatives in the U.S. Even small amounts of foods are not exempt from the rules. However, the rules treat the same food differently depending on how it arrived on these shores.

For example, chocolate brought back from Europe directly for friends in the U.S.--no problem, no questions asked. If the family back in Europe continues to make their own chocolate at home and then sends it by international mail, all clear; presumably there is no danger of bioterrorists sneaking into the kitchen. If, however, the chocolate is bought in another country for shipping, suspicion rules and the bureaucratic hurdles begin.

For sending such a suspicious package, a prior notification is needed and evidence for that is required before it can be sent off. Oh, no problem, according to the FDA, since one can do it over the Internet.

So the happy few whose relatives abroad are fluent in English and willing to find their way through the FDA online procedure might expect their package soon.

Those with less computer-literate friends and relatives have to hope that their local post office knows how to go through the notification process. Some foreign postal services might help their customers, but it is not clear if that will be the common policy.
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Publication:Consumer Comments
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2004
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