Food Safety Bill Moves to House Floor

The <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/practice_areas/food_poisoning">food safety bill continues to move through Congress, and was just passed by bipartisan vote in the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Boston.com noted that the legislation was approved on a voice vote and will give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) increased powers to ensure stricter safety standards, including recalling tainted foods; mandating food facility inspections, as often as once yearly, as well as mandating improved record-keeping; enabling imposition of civil penalties; and requiring food importers to register with the government.

Part of the increased responsibilities under the new bill will be funded with a new annual fee of $500 to be imposed on food producers, said Boston.com. Originally, the yearly fee was planned for $1,000 and the FDA’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 Committee members, who agreed to the original amount, later agreed to halve the yearly fee. The fees have an annual cap of $175,000 for those companies with multiple facilities, noted Boston.com.

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 previously. Some Republicans and members of industry—such as the Grocery Manufacturers Association—disagree with the fees.

According to Boston.com, the bill—not applicable to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) products such as meat, poultry, and eggs—is now on its way to the House floor for a vote; there is no similar legislation in the Senate.

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 USDA, which is only responsible for the regulation of meat and poultry.

The FDA has been routinely criticized for lax oversight on 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.

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.

“A series of food-borne disease outbreaks … has not only sickened and killed American consumers but has shaken public confidence in the industry that produces one of our most basic and important commodities … And it has laid bare unacceptable gaps in our food safety laws,’’ said Representative Waxman, quoted Boston.com.

According to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, about 76 million Americans are sickened and 5,000 die from food borne illnesses annually.

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