Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich) has called for action on the Senate’s food safety bill, which has seen no attempt to move it forward since it passed from Committee with strong bipartisan support in November.
Dingell authored the Food Safety Enhancement Act that passed the House in July. The Senate’s companion bill – the Food Safety Modernization Act – passed the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee seven months ago but has stalled as Congress concentrated on health care reform.
Dingell’s renewed call for action on the bill comes in the midst of two new recalls – a recall of salmonella-tainted alfalfa sprouts that has been linked to at least 28 illnesses and six hospitalizations; and romaine lettuce salads that have also tested positive for salmonella.
Dingell said in a statement: “It is unfortunate that we find ourselves reading of more foodborne illness outbreaks that have touched the lives of American consumers. This double whammy should open our eyes to the dangers that exist when it comes to our food supply.
“…It is true that we have one of the safest food supplies in the world. Unfortunately, this title does not suffice. The continuing stream of recalls and illness demonstrate that more can and must be done.”
If passed, the bill would require food companies to submit detailed food safety plans, give the FDA the power to order product recalls, and allow it greater access to company records.
It has come in for some criticism, however, with 103 food and farming organizations uniting behind Senator Jon Tester, who claims that local and state regulations are sufficient to monitor food safety for small food businesses. Opposing that view is a consumer and public health coalition, which claims that creating exemptions for smaller businesses would open loopholes in the food safety system.
Rep. Dingell added: “Strong, bipartisan legislation to address these concerns passed the House almost ten months ago. Similar legislation rests in the Senate. I urge my Senate colleagues to acknowledge this important threat and make legislation addressing it a priority. Until the Senate acts, American families will continue to be at risk.”
There is still no indication of when the bill will be back on the Senate’s agenda.
Calls to overhaul America’s food safety system intensified last year on the back of a spate of multi-state foodborne illness outbreaks. Support from food manufacturers also strengthened after the salmonella outbreak linked to peanut products led to more than 700 illnesses and nine deaths, as well as one of the largest product recalls in US history, at an estimated cost of at least $1bn.
An estimated 76 million Americans become sick as a result of foodborne illness each year, more than 300,000 are hospitalized and 5,000 die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.