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Bill bids to strengthen ‘dangerous’ US food safety regime

By Rory Harrington , 29-May-2009
Last updated on 04-Jan-2012 at 12:51 GMT

New legislation designed to strengthen the “dangerous” US food safety system as well as simplify its complex food supply chain has been introduced by key political figures from the House of Representatives.

The Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 would see inspections of food plants stepped up, oblige manufacturers to take more responsibility for the prevention of food-borne illnesses and hand the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) further punitive powers. The legislation, proposed by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) and Rep John D Dingell (D-Mich.), would give the FDA the authority to recall contaminated food products, the capacity to quarantine food suspected of being tainted and added clout to impose criminal and civil sanctions on transgressors.

Shared responsibility

Rep. Waxman said: "The current state of our food safety system is dangerous not just for the American public, but also for the food industry itself. This bill recognizes that the hallmark of strong food safety legislation must be a shared responsibility for food safety oversight between FDA and industry. This legislation will go a long way toward restoring Americans' confidence in our food supply."

Under the proposals, manufacturers, food handlers and growers would be required to identify contamination risks, record the measures taken to halt them and submit records for federal scrutiny. Private laboratories used by food producers would also be compelled to report the detection of pathogens to the government.

A legislative hearing to discuss the measures contained in the bill has been scheduled for June 3.

Industry body’s fee concerns

The bill has been generally welcomed with Erik Olson, director of food and consumer product safety at the Pew Charitable Trusts, describing it as a major step forward.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) said it supported the “broad goals” of the bill. However, the food industry body has voiced concerns that the $1,000 annual registration fee that all food facilities would have to pay to fund the increased FDA oversight will be passed on to consumers in the form higher food prices “at a time when they can least afford it”.

GMA President and CEO Pamela Bailey said: “Like many consumer groups, we are concerned about the inherent conflict of interest created by asking industry to fund government inspections.”

Restore confidence

The bill is being seen as bid to shore up failing confidence in the country’s food safety regime, and follows a number of high-profile contamination incidents in the US over the past few years, including E.coli in spinach, salmonella in peppers and the recent outbreak of salmonella in peanut butter.

Earlier this week, newly appointed FDA commissioner Dr Margaret Hamburg admitted the nationwide peanut contamination incident represented a failure on the part of the agency.

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