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FDA Rules Full of Holes: Carriers

TORONTO, Ont. - Carriers breathed a sigh of relief when the FDA announced a "soft enforcement" approach to the Dec. 12 implementation of its new rules governing prior notice and registration of food f...

BORDER BLUES: Soft enforcement reveals harsh reality of trucking.
BORDER BLUES: Soft enforcement reveals harsh reality of trucking.

TORONTO, Ont. – Carriers breathed a sigh of relief when the FDA announced a “soft enforcement” approach to the Dec. 12 implementation of its new rules governing prior notice and registration of food facilities.

But they’ve been given plenty of ammunition for criticism ever since.

LTL carriers have the most concerns about how the new rules, once fully enforced, will affect day-to-day operations.

“There are a lot of different holes in the way they’re rolling this out, and not a lot of consultation with the industry about how to make it work,” said Phil Cahely, executive director of the Canadian Courier and Messenger Association.

The association represents companies of all shapes and sizes, including LTL carriers, couriers like FedEx and Purolator, regional couriers and smaller messenger companies. Most of their deliveries are time-sensitive.

“For example, what happens if you’re carrying mixed loads, some items under the FDA jurisdiction and others not. For example, meat comes under the department of agriculture but venison is FDA-regulated. It’s all very confusing when it comes to what you have to report to who, especially when you’re carrying packages that may themselves carry mixed goods.”

Thanks to the soft enforcement period, Christmas food packages made it over the border, but Cahely points to the potential complication of sending gift food packages, like Hickory Farms package of mixed cheeses, meats and jams, over the border as enforcement becomes more restrictive.

“Especially for LTL carriers it gets ridiculous. We have to make sure there’s a different prior notice given for each product in a mixed package.”

Chances are, future non-compliance measures will be levied against carriers, not customers sending the packages.

“It will be up to us to make sure customers have received their PN (Prior Notice) numbers prior to shipping,” said Cahely.

“And as far as time-sensitive shipments go, if the federal government intervenes in their delivery all bets are off.”

The new rules are also problematic for companies like Reimer Express, which specialize in LTL.

According to Vice-President of Operations Clayton Gordon, prior notice on shipments is so far being filed in a timely fashion. But by the end of December, fully two weeks after the FDA rules were implemented, the FDA had yet to issue PN confirmation numbers prior to the shipments’ arrival at the border.

“I don’t think we actually got one PN number on time, to make it work the way it’s supposed to,” said Gordon from his Winnipeg office.

“We reported all the shipments and sent them out one Friday and we only got one PN number back the next Monday.”

One of the biggest problems for carriers will be confirming that shippers and/or brokers have actually filed notice of shipments.

“Today we have no proof that the shipper has actually filed prior notice, other than their say,” Gordon said.

“Fortunately we’ve been told that customs will be lenient. And so far they haven’t held us up, so it hasn’t yet hurt us business-wise.”

The same holds true for Challenger Motor Freight, according to Enno Jakobson, the company’s vice-president of risk management.

“We’ve had very few problems so far,” said Jakobson, a week after the new rules came into effect.

“But we did have twenty loads of beer sit over the weekend because one broker wasn’t set up internally (to file prior notice).

“And we’re running into other issues, for example, all the additional systems that we’ll have to work out with our smaller shippers.”

For the most part, larger companies that deal with Challenger tend to have their reporting procedures in place, said Jakobson.

But that doesn’t mean new reporting and registration rules haven’t been putting a strain on even the companies with the most extensive resources, said Cahely.

Big companies forecast their operating budgets well in advance, a year if not more ahead, he pointed out.

“A lot of companies’ budgets for 2004 were already forecast (prior to the publication of the FDA rules). But now they’re looking at making adjustments to their mainframe computer systems, not to mention re-assigning their programmers.”

In other words, just adjusting to the new rules is costing even the big guys, and costing them big.

Be that as it may, companies, both big and small, have until August 2004 to get their acts together. That’s when the FDA and U.S. Customs plan to bring in full enforcement.

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