Food Safety Bill May be Saved

The elusive <"">food safety bill that has been long delayed, passed this fall, only to be derailed due to a constitutional snafu, is being given new life again.

The bill increases Food & Drug Administration (FDA) power over issuing food recalls, increases facility inspections, mandates food producer accountability, and increases farm activity oversight, said the NY Times previously, which noted that the bill does not compress redundant U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)—and other entities—food safety and oversight functions. This ongoing duplication has created significant coordination issues.

The original bill was thought to be a done deal earlier this fall, having passed the Senate, and then the House of Representatives. But shortly after its passage, it was realized that the bill contained fees considered to be tax provisions. As we’ve previously written, the Constitution requires that bills including these types of fees must originate in the House.

Apparently, those issues have been resolved, and on Sunday, the Senate passed the bill by consent. The LA Times said the House is ready to pass the measure today and send it to President Obama for his signature. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime update. A lot has changed since 1938,” which is when today’s mandates were established, said Ami Gadhia, policy counsel for Consumers Union. “This will put FDA in a posture to prevent food-borne illness before it happens,” Gadhia added, quoted the LA Times.

Because the measure is “going to provide a measure of security and certainty that there’s a system in place and bad actors will be weeded out. It’s going to save business costly recalls,” Gadhia said, quoted the LA Times.

According to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announcement last week, tainted food has led to 3,000 reported deaths and 48 million illnesses annually.

The broadly improved powers do little to help with global food production in an environment in which safety rules have not seen meaningful changes in over 70 years, but where food supply is now a worldwide process. The U.S. does not have control over foreign processes, said the LA Times, which is problematic given that about 15 percent of our nation’s food is imported, according to the USDA, said the LA Times. And, the practice is growing. In the first ten months of this year, imports totaled $76 billion, a 12 percent increase over last year, a figure that points to a doubling of the $41 billion seen in 1998, said the LA Times.

Most seafood—80 percent—and a good percentage of fruits and nuts—one-third—are imported as are a number of some ingredients used to create finished foods in the U.S., said the LA Times. For instance, most cereals include supplemental vitamins that come, typically, from China, the third-largest food importer to the U.S., noted the LA Times. Canada and Mexico hold the number one and two spots.

“FDA is able to inspect only about one percent of the food imported into the U.S.,” said Erik Olson, deputy director of the Pew Health Group. “Right now, we don’t have a standard for meeting U.S. requirements. When this legislation is put in place, we’ll have a framework to ensure that food that’s imported into the U.S. meets U.S. standards and importers are held accountable,” Olson said, quoted the LA Times.

Businesses that fail inspections, are involved in recalls, or do not maintain safety plans could be subject to fines and imprisonment, explained the LA Times.

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