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WASHINGTON -- Import legislation under consideration by the House Energy and Commerce Committee (H.R. 3610, the Food and Drug Import Safety Act) would be valuable, but would still only partially solve the food safety problems threatening Americans, according to a new white paper that reviews a dozen food safety bills being considered by Congress by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest based here.
While the majority of bills introduced so far in Congress address import inspection and include mandatory recall authority and civil penalties, CSPI said many do not include mandatory process controls and government-enforced performance standards for both domestic and imported foods. The consumer activist group also maintains that legislation should also address safety issues on American farms, provide for frequent inspection of FDA-regulated American food processors, and require greater traceability for foods that pose hazards.
"In a year with an unnerving number of huge outbreaks and recalls, we urge Congress to give consumers a full loaf when it comes to food safety," said CSPI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal. "Consumer confidence in the safety of foods has fallen dramatically and it will only be restored when Congress delivers top-to-bottom reform. We deserve a system that ensures all our food is safe to eat, whether it's imported or domestic, animal or vegetable, or regulated by USDA or FDA. That would benefit both consumers and industry."
CSPI said these elements are needed to modernize food safety programs:
* Process controls systems, such as the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) system, should be mandatory for all food processors regulated by the FDA. HACCP is already required for meat, poultry, seafood, and juice processors.
* Government agencies should establish and enforce meaningful public-health based performance standards, including limits on the incidence or levels of contamination.
* Inspections of high-risk products should be frequent and intensive, and there should be a minimum inspection frequency for other foods, as currently required for drugs and medical device manufacturers. (FDA currently inspects the average food-manufacturing facility only once a decade, whereas USDA inspects every single beef or chicken carcass.)
* Imported food should be produced under safety systems at least as strong as those in the US, and the FDA should begin certification of food safety programs and facilities in foreign countries.
* Research and education mandates should be broad and well-funded enough to help solve a wide range of food safety problems.
* On-farm programs should begin with written food safety plans for every farmer.
* Enforcement should include mandatory recall authority, greater civil and criminal penalties, product traceback and detention, and whistleblower protection.
Funding disparities between USDA and FDA should also be addressed, according to CSPI, which said while the FDA regulates 80 percent of the food supply, its food safety budget is half that of the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, which regulates the remaining 20 percent of the food supply.
The most comprehensive bill pending before Congress, notes CSPI, is the Safe Food Act. Sponsored by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), the bill includes every element of CSPI's platform for modernizing food law and would create a single food safety agency from the current units within FDA, USDA, and other agencies.