The bill designed to overhaul the failing US food safety system took a major step forward this week after a compromise over industry fees was reached.
The wide-reaching Food Safety Enhancement Act has received bi-partisan approval from the necessary sub-committee after members agreed to halve the proposed tariffs food companies would be obliged to pay to fund extra federal inspections..
The Democrat-sponsored bill originally recommended companies be obliged to pay an annual registration fee of $1,000 for each facility as a contribution towards safety check ups. But after stringent opposition from industry bodies and some Republican representatives, the subcommittee agreed to a yearly charge of $500. An annual cap was also fixed, ensuring no single firm would pay more than $175,000 to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Food industry chiefs have welcomed the concessions but warned that more changes may be needed before the bill is granted full approval.
Pamela Bailey, CEO and president of the Grocers Manufacturers Association (GMA), said: “This bipartisan bill contains many of GMA’s food safety proposals, and we look forward to continuing our work with the Congress to enact food safety legislation that makes prevention of contamination the foundation of our food safety strategies.”
She praised the subcommittee for working in a “truly bi-partisan manner” but cautioned that more battles could lie ahead saying: “There have been significant improvements made to the draft legislation and we look forward to working with the Committee to make other critical improvements before full Committee mark-up.”
She acknowledged that Government scrutiny in food safety was critical but said the industry took the issue seriously and was a responsible player.
“Our industry is increasing its investment in food safety and is prepared to make additional investments to continually improve the safety of our food supplies,” she said.
United Fresh Produce Association president and CEO Tom Stenzel said: "While this legislation is still a work in progress, we are pleased that the committee has addressed some of the key issues we think are important in this bill, including providing for commodity specific, science-based standards for produce by the federal government, allowing for industry-driven advances on traceability, and targeted research funding that will help drive important food safety innovations in the produce industry.”