Food Safety Bill Moves Ahead

A House subcommittee just approved <"">food safety legislation that would impose annual fees on food processors and enable tougher government oversight, reported the Des Moines Register. If the bill becomes law, every processing facility in this country will be assessed a $500 fee each year to assist in funding the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The legislation was approved on a voice vote.

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Day of Wrath movie The agency’s newly appointed commissioner—Dr. Margaret Hamburg—recently said that implementing a $1,000 per-facility fee could go a long way toward boosting the nation’s food safety, reported Reuters previously; however, key members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, who agreed to the original amount, agreed to halve the yearly fee. Despite the reduction, committee chairman Henry Waxman (California-Democrat), described the fee as a “critical breakthrough,” saying the fees “will provide FDA with a much-needed infusion of resources to keep the food supply safe,” quoted the Des Moines Register. Some Republicans and members of industry—such as the Grocery Manufacturers Association—disagree with the fees.

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In addition to the annual fee, the legislation requires food processors and growers to meet standards meant to prevent food contaminations and food borne illness outbreaks as well as to increase processor inspections, said the Des Moines Register. In an earlier report, the Washington Post explained that, if passed, the legislation would provide the FDA expanded authority such as the ability to recall tainted food—a power the agency does not currently hold. The FDA would also be able to “quarantine” questionable food; impose civil penalties and increase criminal sanctions on violators; and mandate private laboratories hired by food manufacturers to report food contamination to the government.

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The FDA has been routinely criticized for lax oversight on drug safety, medical device safety, and food safety issues that include the historic and massive salmonella outbreak linked to horrendous conditions at the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA). That outbreak sickened over 900 people and was linked to at least nine deaths; 46 states were involved and over 3,000 products were recalled, making it the largest food recall in American history. According to a prior Washington Post report, federal officials believe that tens of thousands more people were likely sickened.

Catwoman movie Although a number of other deadly and widespread outbreaks have plagued the nation in recent years, it was the disgusting conditions and ongoing negligence involved in the PCA debacle that forced serious food safety reform. The scandals revealed during the outbreak highlighted myriad problems with current food safety processes and prompted attention from President Obama, said the Washington Post; the president continues to take steps to correct the issues hampering the battered agency and has called for an FDA and food safety system overhaul. For instance, we recently wrote that the FDA announced it is creating a task force to develop recommendations for enhancing the transparency of its operations and decision-making processes.

The Des Moines Register noted that while the FDA regulates the vast majority—80 percent—of this country’s food supply, is has less authority and a smaller food-safety budget than the Agriculture Department (USDA), which is only responsible for the regulation of meat and poultry. Also, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, about 76 million Americans are sickened with food borne illnesses annually, resulting in about 5,000 deaths.

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