The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) has challenged draft legislation put forward last week by Democratic leaders for food and drug safety, on the basis the proposal would overly burden manufacturers currently facing a crisis in food prices.
Representing an industry worth approximately $2.1 trillion in food, beverage and consumer packaged goods, GMA said that while it too wants a safe food supply in the US, the draft legislation issued Thursday - entitled the Food and Drug Administration Globalization Act of 2008 - is unrealistic and would impede innovation.
"…the Food and Drug Administration Globalization Act of 2008 as drafted for discussion creates unnecessary regulatory burdens, over-broad enforcement power, and would likely result in a further increase in food prices," said GMA senior vice president Bob Brackett
While food safety made headlines in 2007, food prices are now set to become a major policy issue both in the US and abroad. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics this month released Consumer Price Index data for March 2008, which indicated food and beverage prices rose at a seasonally adjusted rate of 5.1 percent for the first quarter of 2008.
Among the proposals specified in a memo last week, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce called for a $2,000 registration fee for US food facilities as well as for those facilities that export into the country.
The committee indicated this fee would generate approximately $600mn, thereby more than doubling the agency's current food safety budget.
"The user fees proposed in the draft are unfair food taxes imposed on food manufacturers that will only work to arbitrarily increase the cost of food for consumers at the worst time possible - when thousands of Americans are already struggling to hold on to their homes and pay their already skyrocketing grocery bills," said Brackett.
The memo also outlines a need for food companies to register with the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) annually, and be submitted to plant inspections yearly as opposed to the current rate of once every four years.
Building on the proposals made by the committee's Chairman, John Dingell, as well as Representatives Frank Pallone and Bart Stupak, the draft is meant to instigate debate surrounding the issue.
"This Discussion Draft is meant to stimulate discussion about how to provide adequate funding and authority for FDA to ensure the safety of the Nation's food, drug, medical device, and cosmetic supply in an increasingly globalized marketplace," states the memo, dated April 17. "The intention is to hold legislative hearings on the draft over the next few weeks and to markup legislation shortly thereafter."
At the heart of the country's food safety issue lies the problem of funding.
FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach addressed this problem earlier this year during a speech given to the National Press Club.
"It is no secret in Washington that as the FDA's responsibilities have grown, the resources devoted to them have not kept pace," said Eschenbach.
"Strengthening the FDA for this new century will require an investment, providing our agency with a budget and authorities that are commensurate with the scale and scope of our mission."
Meanwhile, GMA does not see it as the food industry's role to make-up for federal budgetary shortfalls.
"We are supportive of reforms that will truly result in safer foods for our consumers, but think there are better, more efficient and effective ways to accomplish this goal than those outlined in this draft bill," said Brackett.