The legislation has been proposed to supplement the Food Safety Modernization Act, of which Gillibrand is a co-sponsor, rather than as an alternative. The Food Safety Modernization Act is currently awaiting consideration by the Senate.
The proposal calls for better communication between the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the two main government departments responsible for food safety, as well as better recall response, public education, and improved inspection.
Food import safety
One of the main areas of focus is the safety of imported food, as she claims there are still not enough specialists to inspect food and agricultural products coming into the country. She said that “the overall agricultural inspection rate for cargo has declined from nearly 70 percent in 2001 to about 40 percent in 2008.” The proposal calls on the Department of Homeland Security to prioritize the hiring of inspectors to ensure that imported food is safe.
“We need to make sure the Homeland Security can test food that comes in from other countries to make sure they meet the same standard as American produced food,” said Gillibrand.
In addition, the legislation includes a proposal to require foreign food manufacturers to provide certification of their products, and deny entry to those that do not comply.
"In America, in 2009, it is unconscionable that food is still going straight to our kitchens, school cafeterias and restaurants without being properly tested to ensure its safety," Gillibrand said.
"It's spreading too many diseases and costing too many lives. We need to do a better job of catching contaminated food before it ever comes close to a kitchen table. My plan addresses the gaps in the inspection process and improves recalls and public education, so parents have access to the information to keep their families safe."
In order to educate the public about recalls, the legislation includes a proposed system for notifying consumers by posting recall information directly on the grocery store shelf when a product has been recalled.
She asked: “How many people are going to check a website to see what kind of food recalls are there this week?”
Gillibrand also plans to mandate testing of ground beef for E. coli, both after it is ground and before it is combined with other ingredients and packaged as hamburgers.
Although the American Meat Institute has welcomed the proposal, it has warned that the legislation could “duplicate the millions of tests currently being conducted by the meat industry”.
According to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 76 million Americans suffer from food-borne illness each year, around 325,000 are hospitalized and about 5,000 die.