Senate Food Safety Bill Edges Toward Vote

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Senate Food Safety Bill Edges Toward Vote


Members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) late last week reached agreement on the Food Safety Modernization Act, which would give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) enhanced responsibility to ensure the nation’s food safety. The legislation has already been approved by the House and now moves on to the full Senate for a vote.

“We commend the bipartisan group of six Senate leaders who worked diligently to negotiate a manager’s package of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act,” said Food Marketing Institute (FMI) president/CEO Leslie G. Sarasin. “Consumers have the right to expect that the food they purchase is safe, affordable and meets the highest quality standards. We are pleased to see the process moving forward, and we urge the Senate to take up this bill as soon as they return from recess.”

Key provisions of the bill would provide the FDA with mandatory recall authority, increase the frequency of inspections at processing plants and other facilities, permit the hiring of new safety inspectors, and enable the FDA access to food producer records. The legislation also would require importers to verify the safety of their foreign suppliers and require businesses that manufacture and process food to have in place plans to prevent adulteration, and the requirement that the food industry help pay for the increased inspections through additional fees.

A joint statement released by a group of bipartisan senators that have worked on the bill said: “Any 100-year-old plus structure — like our nation’s food safety system — needs improvements. With this announcement…we aim to not just patch and mend our fragmented food safety system, we [also] hope to reinforce the infrastructure, close the gaps and create a systematic, risk-based and balanced approach to food safety in the United States. The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act will place more emphasis on prevention of foodborne illness and will provide new tools to respond to food-safety problems. We look forward to working with our respective leaderships to take up this bipartisan legislation as soon as possible."

Six Senate leaders have been negotiating on the bill in good faith, including Senate HELP committee chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), ranking member Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), authors of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), and lead co-sponsors Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.).

“For far too long, the headlines have told the story of why this measure is so urgently needed,” noted Harkin. “Foodborne illness outbreaks, product recalls and Americans sickened over the food they eat. This 100-year-old plus food safety structure needed to be modernized.”

After “a great deal of time and effort from members on both sides of the aisle,” added Harkin, “we have a strong, bipartisan proposal that will overhaul our current food safety system -- a system that right now fails far too many American consumers. I am confident that the remaining details will be worked out and am hopeful that the measure will come to the Senate floor as soon as possible.”

The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act passed the HELP Committee without a single dissenting vote on Nov. 18, 2009. Aside from FMI, the bill is supported by dozens of other trade and consumer organizations, including the Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA), Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the Consumer Federation of America, the National Association of County and City Health Officials, and the National Restaurant Association (NRA).

The bill that was approved last week, however, doesn’t include a proposal by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to ban Bisphenol A, although, according to press reports, an amendment to ban the controversial compound found in some plastics from baby bottles, baby food and infant formula will be introduced when the bill goes to a full Senate vote.

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