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Advocates for food safety, including those in the grocery sector, scored a major win laste last week when the House of Representatives approved a bill that will initiate sweeping reform to existing laws.
The Food Safety Enhancement Act, H.R. 2749, will increase the Food and Drug Administration’s authority in food production inspections, developing new enforcement measures and tracking food recalls.
Government funds of $3.5 billion will be allocated to facilitate the revisions, partially funded by a $500 annual tax on food producers. The bill passed by a vote of 283 to 142.
Leslie G. Sarasin, president and CEO of the Food Marketing Institute, lauded the passage of the legislation: “We are pleased that the bill endows the FDA with new powers such as mandatory recall authority, which will improve its ability to safeguard the food supply. We support the measure’s recognition of fully accredited third-party food safety certification programs and the need to develop traceability initiatives that build on industry efforts already underway.”
Initial support for the bill grew from multiple instances of salmonella-related illness and recalls over the past several years of such items as spinach, peanut products and peppers.
Grocery Manufacturers president and CEO Pamela G. Bailey noted: “House passage of The Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 marks an important milestone.This legislation will strengthen our nation's food safety net by placing prevention as the cornerstone of our nation's food safety strategy and providing FDA with the resources and authorities it needs to adequately fulfill its food safety mission. Combined with increased industry resources and vigilance, this legislation represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to modernize our food safety system and restore the public's faith in the safety and security of the food supply."
Although the bill was generally well received by the food and foodservice industries, some are still looking for additional amendments to the bill’s current provisions, such as increased requirements on recordkeeping for restaurateurs. There are also concerns about the proposed tax for food producers, which may result in pricing increases for consumers.
President Obama called the bill “a major step forward in modernizing our food safety system,” and called for the support of Senate members who have yet to cast their vote. Sarasin and Bailey have also urged the passage of the Senate bill.
The produce industry’s input was also evident in the legislation, as well as in proposed new produce commodity-specific food safety guidance. FDA food safety guidance for tomatoes, melons and leafy greens is intended to cover the entire supply chain, from production and harvest to processing, distribution and user handling at retail or foodservice. The proposed food safety guidance for the three produce categories represents the first step toward eventual regulation.
“United Fresh Produce Association is very pleased that FDA has moved forward quickly in publishing its draft guidance documents,” said the trade group’s president, Tom Stenzel. “Our industry has worked hard since 2004 to develop commodity-specific guidance documents in each of these areas, and now strongly supports FDA taking these efforts to a new level.”
Kathy Means, VP of government relations for the Produce Marketing Association, concurred. “We are pleased to see that the proposed guidance reflects the substantial work that has already been done by commodity groups over the last several years, as well as the numerous discussion that industry experts including PMA have had with the agency, especially since the Obama administration took office. This reflects the new, more collaborative way of working with stakeholders that the new FDA leadership has been promising.”
Although United Fresh consulted extensively with FDA during the development of past guidance, Stenzel said it’s “always been important that the government make its own independent judgment of the most appropriate food safety practices and provide its stamp of approval and endorsement on specific recommendations.”
Stenzel was gratified that FDA recognized “the important role of the industry’s efforts in developing commodity-specific guidance that has shaped best practices in food safety,” which has further served as a key tool in shaping the agency’s new guidance documents. The new guidance documents also incorporate general lessons learned since release of FDA’s “1998 Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables.”
FDA will now solicit public comment on the proposed guidance for 90 days; after considering public input, the agency will publish final guidance. Both groups plans to comment in detail on the proposed guidance, which can be found online at:
--Leafy greens: http://www.federalregister.gov/OFRUpload/OFRData/2009-18451_PI.pdf