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Food industry urges Congress to reform food safety rules

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 26-Jan-2009

A group of ten major food industry organizations has signed letters to Congress urging it to modernize US food safety regulation amid concern that otherwise America could lose its reputation for safe, good quality food supplies.

The reforms it proposes include giving the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the power to authorize mandatory food recalls, echoing similar calls made last week by the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Government Accountability Office.

“We urge Congress to quickly enact food safety reforms that will give FDA new powers to reduce the risk of food-borne illness,” it said.

Voluntary recalls

The call comes at a time when the US food industry is being rocked by the salmonella outbreak linked to peanut products from the Peanut Corporation of America, which has so far led to nearly 500 illnesses across 43 states and may have caused seven deaths. The outbreak has resulted in the recall of over 180 products, all of them recalled voluntarily.

At present, the FDA can only request that companies voluntarily withdraw products from sale if it suspects contamination, and it offers recommendations to companies that initiate their own voluntary recalls.

Ensuring food safety

The letter – one copy of which was sent to the House of Representatives and another to the Senate – said that the signatory organizations would support efforts to improve the safety of American food supply.

It said: Americans continue to enjoy the safest food supplies in the world but rising food imports and changing consumer preferences pose new challenges that require Congress and the Administration to modernize our food safety net.”

Additional FDA powers

In addition to granting the FDA power to enforce mandatory recalls, the letter called on Congress to give it the power to establish safety standards for fruit and vegetables, adding that “risk and science demonstrate that standards are needed.”

President and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association Pam Bailey said: “The Food and Drug Administration must be given better tools and more authority to prevent contamination of the nation's food supplies if we are to maintain our position of global leadership and assure consumer confidence.”

The letter also recommended requiring detailed food safety plans from every company manufacturing food for the US market, requiring food importers to monitor and document the food safety practices of foreign suppliers, and to focus food safety inspections on those facilities that pose the greatest risk of contamination.

Signatories included the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the American Frozen Food Institute, the Retail Industry Leaders Association and the Food Marketing Institute, among others.

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