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Obama says new food safety legislation would promote prevention

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 09-Jul-2010
Last updated on 15-Jul-2010 at 18:07 GMT

President Obama has said that passing the Food Safety Modernization Act would provide government with the tools it needs to better ensure food safety, as long-awaited discussion began in the Senate this week.

The Food Safety Modernization Act is the companion bill to The Food Safety Enhancement Act that passed the House last July. It passed unanimously through committee back in November, but has been on hold as the Senate’s attention turned to health care reform and jobs. Meanwhile, the bill has garnered widespread support from the food and beverage industry, including from such influential organizations as the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Food Marketing Institute, and the American Frozen Food Institute.

The legislation was prompted by a spate of food safety recalls, including the peanut product recall that involved thousands of products last year, after salmonella-tainted peanuts sickened hundreds and killed nine. Calls from industry to update food safety laws intensified as consumer confidence in food companies declined and recall costs mounted.

President Obama said in a statement on Wednesday: “A year ago today, the Food Safety Working Group, chaired by Health and Human Service Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, announced key findings on how to upgrade the food safety system. Since then, my Administration has taken steps to reduce the prevalence of E. coli, implemented new standards to reduce exposure to Campylobacter, and issued a rule to control Salmonella contamination. Among other accomplishments, the FDA has conducted a pilot study on a tracing system, and HHS, in collaboration with USDA, has rolled out an enhanced and updated www.foodsafety.gov site to provide consumers rapid access to information on food recalls.

“But there is more to be done. Today, I thank the House for its work and support efforts in the Senate to pass S. 510, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act. This bipartisan bill would complement the work already undertaken by the Food Safety Working Group. The bill addresses longstanding challenges in the food safety and defense system by promoting a prevention-oriented approach to the safety of our food supply and provides the Federal Government with the appropriate tools to accomplish its core food safety goals.”

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. Last month, a report from the Institute of Medicine said that given that FDA is responsible for more than 150,000 food facilities, more than one million restaurants and other retail food establishments, and more than two million farms, as well as millions of tons of imports, it lacks the resources to sufficiently monitor the entire food supply.

According to figures from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, 300,000 people in the US are hospitalized every year due to foodborne illness, and about 5,000 die.

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