A subcommittee of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee took the first step toward passing food safety legislation last Wednesday by approving an amended version of The Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009. The new version cuts the proposed user fee to $500 per facility, with a cap of $175,000 per company, and scales back expectations for mandating traceability in the near future.
"The leadership of the committee listened to the concerns of the food industry, and the new bill included some important changes as a result," said Jerry Slominski, IDFA senior vice president of legislative and economic affairs. "The bill is moving in the right direction, but we need to keep working to make it better."
According to Slominski, IDFA worked closely with subcommittee members on three specific areas of concern: user fees, country-of-origin labeling and traceability.
An earlier draft of the bill proposed user fees of $1,000 per food manufacturing facility to help defray the cost of increased inspections by the Food and Drug Administration. The new measure cuts the fee in half. IDFA continues to oppose user fees for routine FDA inspections.
Progress was also made in the country-of-origin labeling requirement. Although the bill still requires each product label to list the country of origin where final processing takes place, a requirement for companies to list on their websites the country of origin for each ingredient in a processed food was deleted.
A lengthy traceability section remains in the amended version, but it was substantially revised so that manufacturers will have time to develop a workable system. Before implementing a regulation on the issue, FDA will be required to hold public hearings, establish a pilot program and assess the feasibility of tracing technologies.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) wants the committee to further amend and then vote on the bill this week. If approved as expected, the bill would move to the House for a floor vote perhaps as early as July.