The recently expanded recall by the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) has ignited congressional oversight hearings and a spate of new legislation to address issues surrounding the nation's food safety system. The hearings also raised questions about the current effectiveness of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Last Wednesday, the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations and its chairman Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) held a hearing to review the recent Salmonella outbreak in peanut products from PCA. The Senate Agriculture Committee, chaired by Senator Tom Harkin (D - IA), held a similar hearing the previous week.
The hearings brought to the forefront many of the issues in the food safety debate, including mandatory recall authority, user fees, administrative fines, food safety systems, frequency of inspections, registration and certification of private laboratories, traceability and FDA access to company records and testing results, and increased FDA funding.
"IDFA is reaching out to members of Congress for an ongoing dialogue about how the dairy industry ensures food safety," said Ruth Saunders, IDFA senior director of policy and legislative affairs "We will be encouraging IDFA members to do the same on a grassroots level."
Against the backdrop of the congressional hearings, two bills were introduced in the House of Representatives. The Food and Drug Administration Globalization Act of 2009 (Food Safety H.R. 759) was introduced by Reps. John Dingell (D-MI), chairman emeritus of the Committee on Energy and Commerce; Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), chairman of the Subcommittee on Health; and Bart Stupak (D-MI), chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), chair of the House Sub-Committee for Agriculture and FDA Appropriations, introduced the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009 (H.R. 875).
Both of these food safety bills were introduced in the previous Congress, but did not gain the attention that is sure to exist now in light of the expanding recall. The bills would impose new user fees and third-party accreditation, and expand access to records, among many other new requirements. Rep. DeLauro's bill also would create a separate food safety agency within the Department of Heath and Human Services, where FDA now resides.
With so much attention on food safety, the new Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack seconded the need to modernize the U.S. food safety system. He recommended combining the duties now shared by FDA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other government agencies and creating a single inspection agency.
"It's clear that Congress and the new Obama administration will be considering changes to the current food safety system," said Saunders. "While we support improvements, such as requiring science-based food safety protocols and risk-based inspections by FDA, we have concerns with other aspects of the food safety bills."
According to Saunders, both bills would put the food industry in the position of paying for government inspections, a linkage that consumer groups have long opposed and that is not a requirement of food safety inspection at USDA.
"We are actively involved in expressing these concerns to members of Congress, as well as the significance of the economic losses involved with the ongoing recall," Saunders said.
For more information, contact Saunders at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-220-3553.