January 18, 2004
FDA Prior Notice

As of December 12, 2003, as part of the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 (the Bioterrorism Act), all food shipped into the US must be pre-cleared by registering the package with the FDA before mailing it. (fact sheet)There is no exception for quantity; even gifts of candy and snacks sent by international mail must give prior notice (no more than 5 days and no less than 4 hours).

So if I want to mail my niece a couple packs of the Japanese gum she likes, I have register myself with the FDA then fill in a form. Repeat as needed every time I want to mail some food.

The form requires you to identify each item by manufacturer (including the address and mfg registration number, if known), an FDA product code, the common name of the item (please select one from the FDA’s preapproved list), a harmonized tarrif code, quantity, and so on. Seemingly ad infinitum but really only 45 steps as enumerated in the instructions.

There are three main exceptions to the prior notice system: 1) food you are carrying on your person for your personal consumption as you enter the United States, 2) meat and eggs under import control of the USDA, and 3) food made by an individual in her own kitchen and sent as a personal gift.

#3 is a giant loophole waiting to be exploited. Grandma Terrorists (tm) worldwide are perfecting their recipes for Anthrax Fudge, Botulism Brownies, Vanilla Plague Cookies, and Smallpox Surprise. Snow White’s apple is on the way, but a box of factory manufactured chocolates has to go through hoops… Ridiculous.

Posted by kuri at January 18, 2004 12:00 AM


Oh so proud to be from the land of the free (gag, choke) and the home of the brave (ha ha ha ha).

I’d think that the terrorists have absolutely won.

Posted by: M Sinclair Stevens on January 18, 2004 09:54 AM

Same here. We had to take a Christmas package back home from the Post Office, and try to get the code number for the Morozoff Chocolates that were included. The URLs on the sheet the P.O. gave us were useless, and the Office of Homeland Security bioterrorism site seemed to be geared toward real importers. We couldn’t find the authorization number and ended up ripping open the package and eating the chocoalte ourselves, then resealing the package. Yoshiko took it to a bigger central P.O. the second time, and they didn’t even ask about foodstuffs.

Posted by: nils on January 18, 2004 09:09 PM

Hmm. So now it’s going to be even closer to impossible to get my white Qoo shipped here.

So, what if I tried to ship some Coca-cola from Japan to the US? Technically it’s a US product, correct? So are we scanning our own stuff now?

Sounds like cause for further entanglement in an enlarged bureaucratic web to me, not to mention a seemingly bad waste of time, money, paper, and energy.

Good intentions gone wrong?
Are we overdoing it?

Posted by: e on January 19, 2004 12:34 PM

Days after you pointed this out this is still bugging me (since we have relatives in both the UK and Australia). I guess we were lucky that AJM’s mum sent her Christmas package early from England this year. She always packs it full of plum pudding and Scottish biscuits and EU chocolates.

This is insanity. Perhaps we should submit countless requests for single sticks of gum and the like just to inundate the bureaucracy. I can’t believe this is the US…certainly not the one I grew up in. It sounds more like the stories I’ve heard coming out of China or the former USSR.

Posted by: M Sinclair Stevens on January 20, 2004 09:21 AM

…and so, more and more, we isolate ourselves from the rest of the world. The terrorists are indeed reaching their goal.

Posted by: on February 21, 2004 01:46 PM
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