Food Safety Reform Bill Advances In House

Historic legislation to reform food safety at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) moved a step closer to becoming a reality yesterday as the Food Safety Enhancement Act was voted out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The bipartisan bill, spearheaded by chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and chairman emeritus John Dingell (D-Mich.), has the support of several trade and consumer groups, including the United Fresh Produce Association and grocery manufacturer representatives, as well as nonprofit advocacy groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports magazine,

United Fresh president/CEO Tom Stenzel noted that since the bill’s debut as a legislative draft in May, through its markup in subcommittee last week and full committee review yesterday, “it is clear that both Democrats and Republicans have worked together to make this a better bill addressing comprehensive food safety reform.”

Having worked closely with congressional leaders in both houses to develop policy concepts that would both maximize public health and rebuild consumer confidence in the overall food safety system, Stenzel said while United Fresh was pleased that a number of produce industry priorities were included in the original draft of the bill, “there were still many problem areas in that draft. Since that time, we have worked closely with committee members on both sides of the aisle, as well as congressional leaders outside of the committee, and are pleased with a number of significant improvements in the bill.”

Stenzel specifically cited bipartisan support for the following improvements contained in the bill reported out of committee yesterday:

--Strengthens the bill’s commodity-specific approach to produce
--Ensures that FDA would work with USDA, state departments of agriculture and other agencies in implementing all produce provisions
--Keeps a mandate for traceability across all foods, but eliminated the draft bill’s prescriptive dictates that could have set back work on United Fresh’s current Produce Traceability Initiative
--Exempts produce from any duplicative requirements for country-of-origin labeling
--Enhances the ability of fresh processors to develop individual HACCP programs without rigid one-size fits-all mandates
--Assures equal treatment of imported and domestic produce in food safety standards
--Secures a pilot program and feasibility study for potential mandatory test reporting, and limited such testing to facilities required to comply with Good Manufacturing Practices
--Ensures tighter control of potential FDA geographic quarantine authority, requiring an imminent threat to take such action
--Caps registration fees for both facilities and importers

Pamela G. Bailey, GMA’s president and CEO, also applauded the bipartisan bill as “legislation that makes prevention of contamination the foundation of our food safety strategies … While we have concerns with certain provisions of the bill, we applaud the committee for developing food safety legislation which requires all food manufacturers to have food safety plans, sets new standards for fruits and vegetables, expands FDA’s enforcement powers, and gives FDA new tools to address risky imports.”

Consumers Union, meanwhile, urged committee members to approve and promptly send a strong bill protecting consumers and helping to prevent future outbreaks to the House floor for passage. “We need Congress to act before another deadly contaminant is found [in the food supply], said Jean Halloran, Consumers Union’s director of food safety initiatives. “The salmonella found in peanut butter earlier this year cost the food industry more than $100 million, and cost nine consumers their lives. This must not be repeated.”

Added CSPI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal: “This long-overdue legislation refocuses FDA on preventing problems, rather than reacting to each new food crisis. Consumers have lost confidence in the safety of our food, and Congress can help restore it by passing this important bill without delay.”
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