House passes bill giving FDA new food safety enforcement powers and resources

Jul 31, 2009 (CIDRAP News) –The US House of Representatives yesterday passed sweeping legislation that would give the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) more power and resources to prevent foodborne illness outbreaks.

The Food Safety Enhancement Act passed by a vote of 283 to 142, according to a statement yesterday from Rep John D. Dingell, D-Mich., the bill's author. Dingell's office said the act is a bipartisan collaboration between members of the Energy and Commerce committee and negotiations between chairmen of the house Agriculture and Ways and Means committees.

Dingell said in the statement that the bill has the support of consumer, food safety, and industry groups.” The Food and Drug Administration—the Agency responsible for regulating about 80% of the food supply—has been expected to adequately protect American consumers with outdated authorities and woefully inadequate funding," he said. "It is a monumental piece of bipartisan legislation that will grant FDA the authorities and resources needed to effectively oversee an increasingly global food marketplace."

According to Dingell’s office, the law:

·     Requires food facilities to have safety plans to identify and mitigate food safety hazards

·     Increases the frequency of FDA inspections at food facilities

·     Provides stronger enforcement tools, such as mandatory recalls

·     Gives the FDA tools to ensure that imported foods meet US safety standards

·     Expands FDA trace-back capabilities during foodborne illness outbreaks

·     Produces more resources to support the FDA's food safety activities

The next step is for the Senate to take up the issue, which probably won't happen until this fall, the New York Times reported yesterday. The Senate has proposed similar measures in its Food Safety Modernization Act, introduced in March by a bipartisan group that includes Sen Dick Durbin, D-Mich., and Sen Judd Gregg, R-NH.

Yesterday's vote followed a defeat of the bill the previous day during a special vote designed to limit discussion and prevent amendments to the bill, according to media reports. The bill fell shy of the two-thirds majority needed to pass under the rules of the special vote.

Several groups praised the House’s passage of the food safety bill. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), in a statement yesterday, said under the current system, food facilities might be visited by an FDA inspector once every 5 to 10 years. It said the proposed law would increase inspections to every 6 to 12 months for high-risk facilities, every 18 months to 3 years for low-risk facilities, and every 5 years for warehouses.

Groups praise House action
Caroline Smith DeWaal, the CSPI's food safety director, said in the statement," FDA has been operating under the same law for 70 years and can do little more than respond to outbreaks after the fact. This bill gives the FDA more authority and real enforcement teeth to help prevent more outbreaks, illnesses, and deaths."

Trust for America's Health(TFAH), a nonprofit health advocacy group based in Washington, DC, said in a statement today that the bill will strengthen the nation's efforts to prevent foodborne illnesses, which it says sicken about 76 million Americans each year.

Jeff Levi, PhD, executive director of TFAH, said in the statement that the reforms represent commonsense updates." Americans have a right to expect their government will ensure the foodsafety system is focused on fighting modern-day threats and will prevent unnecessary illness. This victory is a great start."

Meanwhile, Tom Stenzel, president and chief executive officer of United Fresh Produce Association, an industry trade group, said in a statement yesterday that the House bill contains many important provisions that will improve food safety and boost consumer confidence. Though the group supports the improvements, "There are still important issues that we will address with the Senate as it begins its work on food safety legislation later this year," the statement said.

HHS, USDA unveil new guidance documents
In related developments, US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced new strategies that they said are designed to protect the nation's food supply, according to a statement from the HHS.

Sebelius said the FDA has unveiled new draft guidances to minimize contamination in leafy greens, tomatoes, and melons. "These proposed controls provide a guide for growers and processors to follow so they may better protect their produce from becoming contaminated," she said in the statement.

The draft guidance reflects principles outlined by President Barack Obama's Food Safety Working Group and lays the groundwork for enforceable produce safety standards, the HHS statement said.

Vilsack announced that the USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service is issuing guidance for inspectors to begin conducting routine sampling of bench trim for Escherichia coli. "Bench trim" refers to pieces of meat leftover from steaks and other cuts that processors use to make ground beef.

See also:

Jul 30 CSPI statement

Jul 31 TFAHstatement

Jul 30 UnitedFresh Produce Association press release

Jul 31 HHS and USDA joint statement

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