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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will have to finalize the Food Safety Modernization Act by the spring of 2016, under the terms of a settlement filed at the federal district court in Oakland, Calif.

The federal agency has been under severe public criticism over delays in enacting the biggest food safety overhaul in several decades. The changes were supposed to be implemented by the end of 2012, but the FDA missed all of its its statutory deadlines. Because of the delay, the agency was taken to court by non-profit organization the Center for Food Safety (CFS). Previously, a federal ruling stated that the new regulation would have to be completed by 2015, but the agency appealed, claiming that such a tight deadline would be extremely challenging.

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The consent decree has seven separate conditions that aim to facilitate the transition of the U.S. food safety system from a purely reactive approach to a more efficient proactive method for prevention. It states that new regulation regarding control for human and animal food at factories and warehouses must be completed by August 2015, while rules relating to produce and imported food must be finalized a few months later. Rules on prevention of attacks on the U.S. food supply must be in effect by March 2016.

George Kimbrell, the Center's lead attorney, commented that the consent decree was a great victory that would secure access to safe food products for American households.