The U.S. Food & Drug Administration wants to make sure that food companies can’t get around U.S. food safety laws by producing food in other countries and then importing it for sale to Americans.

The FDA proposed rules on Friday that would require food importers to better audit both the production methods of their international partners and the food that they eventually sell here. From an FDA press release:

Under the proposed rules, importers would be accountable for verifying that their foreign suppliers are implementing modern, prevention-oriented food safety practices, and achieving the same level of food safety as domestic growers and processors. The FDA is also proposing rules to strengthen the quality, objectivity, and transparency of foreign food safety audits. …

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U.S. importers would, for the first time, have a clearly defined responsibility to verify that their suppliers produce food to meet U.S. food safety requirements.

About half of the fresh fruit bought in America is grown overseas, and 20 percent of the vegetables. Candy and other processed food also comes across international borders. (Meat too is imported, but that is regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, not by the FDA.)

The proposed rules, which were written to meet the demands of the 2011 Food Modernization Safety Act, could cost food producers an additional $500 million a year, the FDA says. But they are expected to save lives and reduce hospital visits; 48 million Americans get sick every year from their food, and 3,000 of them die. From Bloomberg:

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The [food safety] act, which has been beset by delays, is the biggest change to food industry oversight since 1938. It was prompted partly by recalls of tainted cookie dough, spinach, jalapeños and peanuts that killed at least nine people and sickened more than 700 in 2008 and 2009.

The law gave the FDA more power to police domestic and international producers, carry out inspections and force recalls of tainted products in an effort to steer government oversight toward preventing contamination rather than responding once problems occur.

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