The Food Safety Enhancement Act has been introduced by House Democrats, and was given a significant boost on Wednesday when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) came out in its support. Other than the controversial fees, the bill would also give the FDA the power to initiate product recalls, and require it to inspect every food facility in the country at least every four years – measures the food and beverage industry has been demanding for some time.
However, although consumer groups have said they support industry fees to bolster food safety funds, industry bodies have expressed strong concerns.
Speaking at the hearing on Wednesday, Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) president Pamela Bailey said: "We are concerned that a broadly applied fee to finance basic FDA functions, including inspections and enforcement, creates an inherent conflict of interest that will erode, rather than improve, consumer confidence in our food supplies."
The American Frozen Food Institute said food safety was its highest priority and was supportive of many provisions in the bill. However, it expressed a “strong desire” to modify the provision on fees.
Meanwhile, the Consumers’ Union has come out in support of the bill, including the plan to charge fees to cover food safety inspections. CU president Jean Halloran said: “The Food Safety Enhancement Act discussion draft provides smart, long-overdue solutions to our food safety crisis, and it should be supported by members of Congress from both parties. We urge both parties to unite to address the problem before there is another outbreak that causes more sickness and deaths."
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has also voiced its support of the bill. CSPI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal said: "The agency is trying to regulate food from all over the world with a 100-year-old toolbox. This bill gives both the food industry and the government new responsibilities for assuring that the food consumers eat won’t make them ill."
In the wake of the salmonella scandal linked to peanut products, a spokesperson for the GMA told FoodNavigator-USA.com that the GMA “would support sensible user fees that help to improve food safety while also providing our industry with some benefits.”
The spokesperson added that the industry is willing to pay its ‘fair’ share, and was “working with Capitol Hill to come up with the appropriate funding mechanisms.”
The organization’s apparent softening on the issue of fees came after a rash of food safety scandals, from chili peppers to pistachios to peanuts, which cost manufacturers millions of dollars. In addition, this led many companies to invest in voluntary food safety checks or damage control measures such as product recall insurance, to cover them if one of their products is involved in a recall.
The FDA has estimated that the $1000 charge would generate about $378m annually.