House sharpens food safety legislation
The U.S. House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on health conducted a legislation markup Wednesday aimed at improving the safety of the nation's food supply chain and enhance the efficiency of the Food and Drug Administration's ability to respond to food-borne illnesses.
Last week, the subcommittee released a discussion draft of the 2009 Food Safety Enhancement Act (H.R. 2749) and held its first hearing on the bill.
'Over the last week, we have worked with members — Democratic and Republican — on and off the committee, with consumer and food safety groups, with numerous representatives from the food industry and with the Obama administration,' said Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, in a statement leading off the markup session.
'My plan is to have a full committee markup next Wednesday and I'm confident we'll have a strong bipartisan consensus on tough new standards to protect the food supply,' he added.
Congress is under immense public pressure to pass legislation to enhance FDA's food supply oversight and enforcement after recent cases of contaminated spinach, peanuts and peppers that sickened hundreds of people and caused some deaths.
The legislation would require that all food-handling facilities conduct hazard analyses, assess potential food safety risks, and develop plans to keep the food supply safe. It establishes FDA food safety standards for produce and creates a food trace-back system so that FDA and public health officials can more easily determine the causes of food-borne disease outbreaks, and gives the agency new tools to keep the food supply safe.
'We make a critical breakthrough in this legislation by establishing a user fee system that provides dedicated funding for food safety activities,' Waxman said. 'Under a proposal that we developed with the Republicans on our committee and with the Grocery Manufacturers Association, all facilities will be assessed a $500 annual registration fee. These fees will provide FDA with a much-needed infusion of resources to keep the food supply safe.'
Many food industry groups, including those associations representing transportation and logistics services providers, are closely monitoring the legislation's development.
'While this legislation is still a work in progress, we are pleased that the committee has addressed some of the key issues we think are important in this bill, including providing for commodity specific, science-based standards for produce by the federal government, allowing for industry-driven advances on traceability, and targeted research funding that will help drive important food safety innovations in the produce industry,' said Tom Stenzel, president and chief executive officer of United Fresh Produce Association.
'There are still opportunities to strengthen this legislation and we look forward to working with the Energy and Commerce Committee and Congress to develop additional enhancements that will broaden support for this important bill,' he said. ' Chris Gillis