Proposed changes to food safety bill could open 'loopholes'

By Sarah Hills

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food safety modernization Salmonella Food safety Foodborne illness

A consumer and public health coalition is urging a US Senator to reconsider exemptions proposed for the Food Safety Modernization Act as they would create a 'loophole' in safety regulations.

The Make Our Food Safe Coalition claims that proposed amendments aimed at protecting smaller businesses from the same expense and rigors required of larger organizations would actually “undermine” the goal of strengthening the food safety system.

The coalition has now written to Senator Jon Tester, who earlier this month introduced the proposed amendments to the Food Safety Modernization Act, which awaits a full hearing in the Senate.

The letter states: “We believe that food should be safe, whatever the source – a big farm or a small one, an organic or conventional operation, a domestic or a foreign company, a large processor or a small business.

“A careful analysis of your proposed amendments reveals that they would create overbroad exemptions that will seriously undercut the ability of the legislation to improve food safety.”

The bill follows a spate of US foodborne illness outbreaks, including the salmonella outbreak linked to tainted peanut products from the Peanut Corporation of America last year when nine people died and more than 700 fell ill.

The proposed amendments urge that smaller food producers and processors should not be required to keep the same detailed records as larger food manufacturers, and to limit traceback requirements.

Tester said that dangerous food-borne outbreaks do not start with family agriculture, and food produced on that scale shouldn’t be subject to the same expensive federal regulations as mass producers.

He is supported by 103 food and farming organizations who claim that local and state regulations are sufficient to monitor food safety for small food businesses.

However the coalition argues that: “The proposed amendment to exempt certain food facilities from traceability, recordkeeping, and preventive controls requirements would create too great a loophole in these important safety protections.”

It said enough protections were in place to ensure that any new traceability requirements were not overly burdensome to small businesses. In addition the amendment would exempt many foreign facilities from preventive control requirements, which are a “cornerstone” of the new rules.

It is also concerned that exempting farms of any size from safety standards when selling direct to a wide range of customers puts American consumers at risk, with cross-contamination one possible outcome.

If passed, the bill gives the Food and Drug Administration the authority to order product recalls, increase the frequency of plant inspections, and require all facilities that manufacture, process, pack or hold food to have risk-based preventive control plans in place to tackle to hazards and prevent adulteration.

However, restaurants and most farms are already exempt from this rule.

The coalition is made up of consumer and public health groups and groups representing victims of food-borne illness.

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