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Export of Food and Plant Products to the USA
The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) carries out a wide range of programs aimed at facilitating the marketing of agricultural products, assuring consumers of a quality food supply, and assuring ensuring fair trading practices. AMS offers voluntary grading service to provide the industry with an impartial, third-party certification of quality and condition of any fresh or processed product. This certification can help to provide a basis for assuring a quality product, verify compliance with contract terms as an aid to selling, and/or help settle claims for damage incurred in transit or storage. The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) provides the following services:

(a) Quality Standards: In cooperation with industry, AMS develops and maintains quality standards for hundreds of products. Products include: fresh fruits, vegetables, and specialty crops, processed fruits and vegetables, milk and other dairy products, cattle, hogs, and sheep, poultry and eggs, cotton, tobacco, organic products.

(b) Grading and Certification: Quality grading (a user-fee service) based on the standards developed for each product. Grading services are often operated cooperatively with state departments of agriculture.

(c) Fruits, Vegetables, and Nuts: Certain agricultural commodities (including fresh tomatoes, avocados, mangoes, limes, oranges, grapefruit, green peppers, Irish potatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, dry onions, walnuts and filberts, processed dates, prunes, raisins, and olives in tins) must meet United States import requirements relating to grade, size, quality, and maturity (7U.S.C. 608(e)). These commodities are inspected and an inspection certificate must be issued by the AMS to indicate import compliance.

Topics discussed in this article include:


Labelling Requirements

According to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act), a food label must contain specified information, displayed conspicuously and in terms that the ordinary consumer is likely to read and understand under ordinary conditions of purchase and use (403(f)). Details concerning type sizes, location, etc., of required label information are contained in FDA Regulations (21 CFR 101), which cover the requirements of both the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and the Fair Packaging and Labelling Act. U.S. food labelling requirements are summarized as follows:

If the label of a food bears representations in a foreign language, the label must bear all of the required statements in the foreign language, as well as in English, (Note-The Tariff Act of 1930 requires all imported articles to be marked with the English name of the country of origin).

If the food is packaged, the following mandatory statements must appear on the label in the English language:

1. Name of the Food: The common or usual name of the food must appear on the principal display panel, in bold type and in lines generally parallel to the base of the package as it is displayed. The form of the product must also be included - sliced, whole, or chopped (or other style) - unless shown by a picture or unless the product is visible through the container. If there is a standard for the food (see page 17), the complete name designated in the standard must be used, limitations must be labelled as such (403(e) and 21 CFR 101.3).

2. Net Quantity of Contents: An accurate statement of the net amount of food in the package. The required units of measure are the avoirdupois pound and the U.S. gallon but metric system measurements may also be used, if desired, in addition to the required declaration in English@ units. The quantity of contents declaration must appear on the principal display panel of the label in lines generally parallel to the base of the package when displayed for sale. If the area of the principal display panel of the package is larger than 5 square inches, the quantity of contents must appear within the lower 30 percent of the label. The declaration must be in a type size based upon the area of the principal display panel of the package (as listed in 21 CFR 101.105) and must be separated for the other information.

The net weight on packages containing 1 pound (avoirdupois) or more, and less than 4 pounds must be declared first in total avoirdupois ounces followed by a second statement in parentheses in terms of pounds and ounces, or pounds and common or decimal fractions of the pound. (Example: Net Wt. 24 ounces (1 2 pounds) or net Wt.24 oz. (1.5 lb)) the contents of packages containing less than 1 pound must be expressed as total ounces. Drained weight rather than net weight is required on some products packed in a liquid that is not consumed as food, such as olives in brine.

Net volume of liquid products in packages containing 1 pint or more and less than 1 U.S. gallon must be declared first in total fluid ounces followed by a statement in parentheses in terms of quarts, pints, and fluid ounces or fractions of the pint or quart. (Example: 40 fluid ounces (1.25 quarts) or 40 fluid ounces (1 1/4 quarts)) Volume of packages containing less than 1 pint must be declared in fluid ounces.

Packages 4 pounds or larger or 1 gallon or larger need not have their contents expressed in terms of total ounces; however, for such packages the contents must be stated in the largest unit weight or measure, with any remainder in ounces or common or decimal fractions of the pound; or in the case of gallons, the remainder in quarts, pints, and fluid ounces, or decimal fractions of the gallon. If the label of any food package also represents the contents in terms of the number of servings, the size of each serving must be indicated.

3. The name, street address, city, state and zip code of either the manufacturer, packer, or distributor: This information must be placed on either the principal display panel or the information panel. The street address may be omitted by a firm listed in a current city or telephone directory. Imported product labels may omit the zip code. However, if the food is not manufactured by the person or company whose name appears on the label, the name must be qualified A Manufactured for, A Distributed by, A or similar expression.

4. Statement of Ingredients: The ingredients in a food must be listed by their common names in order of their predominance by weight unless the food is standardized, in which case the label must include only those ingredients which the standard makes optional. Most ingredients in standardized foods are optional and therefore must be listed on the label. The word ingredients does not refer to the chemical composition, but means the individual food components of a mixed food. If a certain ingredient is the characterizing one in a food (e.g, shrimp in shrimp cocktail) the percent of that ingredient may be required as part of the name of the food.

Food Additives and Colours are required to be listed as ingredients, but the law exempts butter, cheese, and ice cream from having to show the use of colour. Spices, flavours and colour may be listed as such, without naming the specific materials, but any artificial colours or flavours must be identified as such, and certain coal-tar colours must be names specifically (403(I) and 403(k)).

5. Nutrition Information: The Nutrition Labelling and Education Act (NL&E Act), signed into law aw on Nov. 8, 1990, represents the first comprehensive revision of the food labelling requirements of the FD&C Act. Under the NL&E Act, nutrition labelling must appear on the food label or in accompanying labelling. FDA has specified a uniform format which must include the serving size, the number of servings per container and the nutrition content of the food per serving, including the amount of each of 11 nutrients specified in the statute, such as calories, sugars, and sodium. The law adds a new section to the FD&C Act which requires nutrition labelling for virtually all food products, replacing the existing FDA nutrition labelling regulations.

The FDA has published a Food Labelling Guide to answer questions on the NL&A requirements, copies may be obtained from:

The Division of Programs and Enforcement Policy (HFS-155)
Office of Food Labelling, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition
Food and Drug Administration
200 C Street, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20204
Telephone: (202) 205-5229

Food Additive Regulations

Premarket approval is required for food additives. Before marketing a food or colour additive in the U.S. a manufacturer must petition FDA for its approval. The Office of Pre-Market Approval provides a centralized focal point for food additive review. Regulations governing food additives, including petition regulations, are outlined in the 21CFR Part 170-199. Approximately 100 new food and colour additive petitions are submitted to FDA annually.

A food or colour additive petition must provide convincing evidence that the proposed additive performs as it is intended. Animal studies using large doses of the additive for long periods are often necessary to show that the substance would not cause harmful effects at expected levels of human consumption. Studies of the additive in humans also may be submitted to FDA.

In deciding whether an additive should be approved, the agency considers the composition and properties of the substance, the amount likely to be consumed, its probable long-term effects and various safety factors. Absolute safety can never be proven. Therefore FDA must determine if the additive is safe under the proposed conditions of use, based on the best scientific knowledge available.

If an additive is approved, FDA issues regulations that may include the types of foods in which it can be used, the maximum amounts to be used, and how it should be identified on food labels. Additives proposed for use in meat and poultry products also must receive specific authorization from USDA. Federal officials monitor Americans= consumption of the new additive and results of any new research on its safety to assure its use continues to be within safe limits.

Pesticide and Other Contaminants

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) establishes standards of tolerances for pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides used in fumigation of agricultural products. Tolerance levels regulations are applied to all chemically treated products intended for human and animal consumption entering the United States.

Previous law generally required EPA to establish tolerances that will protect the public health with respect to chemicals that pose carcinogenic risks, EPA used a negligible risk standard, except in cases where the Delancy clause of the Federal Good, Drug, and Cosmetic Act Provisions (FGDCA) applied. For effects determined to have a threshold, EPA used safety factors to ensure that lifetime exposure would not exceed a safe level.

Under Delaney a pesticide that causes cancer in man or laboratory animals concentrated in ready-to-eat processed food at a level greater than the tolerance for the raw agricultural commodity, the Delaney clause of the FFDCA prohibited the setting of a tolerance This had paradoxical effects in terms of food safety, since alternative pesticides could pose higher (non-cancer) risks and EPA allowed the same pesticide in other foods based on a determination that the risk was negligible.

The new legislation requires that tolerances be safe, defined as a reasonable certainty that no harm will result from aggregate exposure, including all exposure through the diet and other non-occupational exposures, including drinking water, for which there is reliable information. It also distinguishes between threshold and Anon-threshold effects, consistent with EPA practice. This new law establishes a single, health-based standard for all pesticide residues in all types of food, replacing the sometimes conflicting standards in the old law. There are no differences in the standards applicable to tolerances set for raw and processed foods. Additional provisions ensure coordination with standards and actions under FIFRA, for a more consistent regulatory scheme.

Producers must use only those chemicals which are registered for use on a specific commodity or group of specifically indicated commodities and only according to the direction on the package. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will test products entering the United States for compliance with EPA regulations for pesticide, fungicide, and herbicide residues. FDA monitors for unsafe pesticide levels in food and researches and develops standards on the composition, quality, nutrition and safety of food and colour additives.

Other Regulations and Requirements

FDA Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP). The FD&C Act gives the Food and Drug Administration the authority to establish and impose reasonable sanitation standards on the production of food. FDA requires processors to impose Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) concerning personnel, buildings and facilities, equipment and product process controls which may give manufacturers assurances that their food is safe and sanitary. Sanitation provisions of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act require that foods be produced in sanitary facilities which ensure food is protected from contamination at all stages of production. These regulations establish a minimum level of safety performance, which apply to all businesses. Such protection includes extermination and exclusion of rodents, inspection and sorting of raw materials, quick handling and proper storage, use of clean equipment, and supervision of personnel.

The Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act (PACA), is a law administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), to ensure fair trade practices among buyers and sellers of agricultural products. PACA protects produce grower and shipper assets, and is funded by licensing fees. The Federal Seed Act protects seed buyers from improper labelling claims. The Plant Variety Protection Act protects the integrity of plant varieties and the intellectual property rights of plant breeders. For more information on AMS regulated trade protection laws contact:

Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act - AgBox 0242, Tel (202) 720-2272
Federal Seed Act - Bldg. 506 BARC-E, Beltsville, MD Tel (301) 504-9237
Plant Variety Protection Act - 500 NAL, Beltsville, MD Tel (301) 504-5518

Export Procedure

Exported goods may not be entered into the U.S. legally until the shipment has arrived within the limits of the port of entry and delivery of the merchandise has been authorized by the U.S. Customs Service, U.S. Treasury Department. This is normally accomplished by filing the appropriate documents, either by the importer or by their agent. Customs entry papers may be presented before the merchandise arrives.

The Customs Service does not notify the importer of the arrival of a shipment. Notification is usually made by the carrier of the goods. The importer should make their own arrangements to be sure they or their agent is informed immediately so that the entry can be filed and delays in obtaining the goods are avoided. If documentation is not filed within 30 days of arrival the goods are sent to a general order warehouse to be held as unclaimed. The importer is responsible for storage charges which are incurred during the period the merchandise is being held in the warehouse. After one year it is sold.

Entry of goods is made at the first port of arrival unless other arrangements are made prior to shipment from the country of origin for Ain-bond shipment to a farther port or to a bonded warehouse. If the importer is not able to be there to prepare and file the entry, commercial brokers, known as customs brokers and licensed by the Customs Service, may act as the agent. Such brokers charge a fee for their services. A list of customs brokers may be obtained from a local customs office or the telephone directory.

Documentation and Merchandise Entry

The U.S. believes that facilitating the release of legitimate imported merchandise is equal to the responsibility for collecting the proper import duties and enforcing its laws against illegal merchandise. The documents required by U.S. Customs are:

(i) Customs Entry form 3461
(ii) Evidence of right to make entry, e.g. bill of lading. (Merchandise may be entered only by the owner, purchaser, or a licensed customs house broker.
(iii) A Commercial Invoice or Pro-Forma Invoice if a commercial invoice cannot be produced.
(iv) Packing List if appropriate
(v) Other necessary documents to determine merchandise admissibility.
(vi) A bond which is normally posted with Customs to cover any potential duties, taxes, and penalties the may accrue after release of the cargo.

10 Steps to Faster Customs Clearance:

1. Make sure that your invoices contain the information that would be shown on a well prepared packing list.

2. Mark and number each package so that it can be identified with the corresponding marks and numbers appearing on your invoice.

3. Show on your invoice a detailed description of each item of goods contained in each individual package.

4. Mark your goods legibly and conspicuously with the name of the country of origin, unless they are specifically exempted from the country of origin marking requirements, and with such other marking as required by the marking laws of the United States. Exemptions and general marking requirements are detailed in Chapters 24 & 25 of Importing into the United States.

5. Comply with the provisions of any special laws of the United States which may apply to your goods, such as the laws relating to food, drugs, cosmetics, alcoholic beverages, and radioactive materials.

6. Observe closely the instructions with respect to invoicing, packaging, marking, labelling, etc., sent you by your customer in the United States. He has probably made a careful check of the requirements which will have to be met when you arrive.

7. Work with U.S. Customs in developing packing standards for your commodities.

8. Establish sound security procedures at your facility and while transporting your goods for shipment. Do not allow narcotics smugglers the opportunity to introduce narcotics into your shipment.

9. Consider shipping on a carrier participating in the Automated Manifest System.

10. If you use a licensed customs broker to handle the transaction, consider using a firm that participates in the Automated Broker Interface (ABI).

Animal And Plant Products Exports

APHIS, Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ) is responsible for ensuring that healthy seeds, plants, bulbs, timber, flowers, vegetables, fruits, and a multitude of other agricultural commodities can be exported without risk to agriculture and natural resources. APHIS' Veterinary Services (VS) unit ensures that animals and animal products, such as semen and embryos, can be exported from this country without threatening the animal health in their countries of destination. PPQ issues two kinds of phytosanitary certificates--those for domestic plants and plant products, and those for foreign plants and plant products offered for reexport. User Fees for Plant Exporters: Under direction from Congress, PPQ charges a user fee for issuing phytosanitary certificates. These fees cover the costs of providing certification services, and exporters must pay at the time the certificate is issued.

Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS)

Customer Service Standards for Quality Grading and Certification,
Fresh Fruits, Vegetables, and Specialty Crops
Room 2056, South Building
Washington, DC 20250-6456
Tel: (202) 720-5870
Fax: (202) 720-0393
AMS Processed Products Branch
Room 0709, South Building
Washington, DC 20250-6456
Tel: (202) 720-4693
Fax: (202) 690-1087

THE U.S. CUSTOMS SERVICE cooperates with a number of other Federal agencies, and a license or permit from the responsible agency is necessary to import the following products:

Alcoholic beverages; animals and animal products; certain drugs; firearms and ammunition; fruits, nuts; meat and meat products; milk, dairy, and cheese products; plants and plant products; poultry and poultry products; petroleum and petroleum products; trademarked articles; vegetables.

A general discussion of some of these classes of products has been covered. However, it is recommended that before attempting to import any of these products additional research should be under taken with the appropriate agency.
Office of Regulations and Rulings
U.S. Customs Service
1300 Pennsylvania Ave
Washington, DC 20229
Phone: (202) 927-2340
Fax: (202) 927-1879

Various U.S. and World Food Safety Internet Sites

Federal Register
CODEX Alimentarius
U.S. Food and Drug Administration
Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition
FDA Import information
Import detention information
United States Department of Agriculture
Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS)
Fruit & Vegetables Division
Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS)
Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS)
Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS)
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Office of Pesticide Programs
Food Quality Protection Act
Federal Register
Code of Federal Regulations
Federal Bulletin Board File Libraries
International Food Information Council
Chemical Ingredients Database (Info on EPA registered Pesticides)
Florida Ag. Information Retrieval System
Agricultural Info Center Database

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