Senate panel approves food safety bill

By Rory Harrington

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food safety, United states senate

The far-reaching food safety bill took another step towards becoming law yesterday after a US Senate committee unanimously approved the measure to overhaul the country’s regulatory system.

The Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee signed off on The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act but predicted the bill is unlikely to be heard before the full Senate until next year.

Committee chairman Senator Tom Harkin said he did not expect the measure to reach the floor before Christmas because of the legislative log-jam triggered by the ongoing debate on President Obama’s healthcare reforms.

Taxpayer

The panel also omitted a clause backed by the House that would charge food firms $500 a year to help fund increased plant inspections. Harkin said he was skeptical of the idea as he believed the taxpayer should meet the cost of safeguarding US food supply. The senator for Iowa added he was waiting for an assessment from the Congressional Budget Office on the cost of implementing the proposed new regime.

Jean Halloran, of Consumers Union’s Food Policy Initiatives, called on the HELP chairman to change his mind on the issue, saying a “dedicated revenue stream”​ for this funding was necessary. She said that if the food safety budget was funded only from Congress appropriations, lawmakers may be tempted to cut contributions if there were no major food contamination outbreaks over a prolonged period.

The approval by the HELP Committee was welcomed by a host of consumer and industry groups including the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association (GMA).

Pamela G. Bailey, GMA President and CEO, said: “We applaud the HELP Committee for its bipartisan approval of the bill which will provide the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with the resources and authorities the agency needs to help make prevention the focus of our food safety strategies.”

Bipartisan

Harkin and Republican ranking member Mike Enzi were among those who had already stressed the committee’s bipartisan approach to the scrutiny of the bill that is set to revamp the country’s food safety system.

“This Mark is a forward looking bill that comprehensively reforms our current food safety system yet is adaptable enough to keep pace with an evolving industry,”​ said Harkin in his opening address to the hearing.

He added: “It recognizes that preventive controls are an essential means to improve food safety, and it addresses the need to enhance surveillance, improve emergency response coordination, and heighten the scrutiny of imported foods. Importantly, it also recognizes that, while changes to our system must be real and effective, they must not be excessively burdensome.”

Senator Dick Durbin, who introduced the bill along with Senator Gregg, said the mark up was an important step towards boosting US food safety.

“This bill gives the FDA the ability to respond quickly and effectively when outbreaks occur,”​ he said. “This bipartisan legislation is the right fix to address the challenges facing our food safety system and will go a long way to keep Americans healthy.”

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