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    Industry Backs Draft Food Safety Bill, With Changes

    The food industry has thrown its considerable weight behind the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 draft legislation, which is currently still in draft form. Among those publicly expressing their support for the legislation -- along with modifications that they maintain will bolster the final law -- are the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), the United Fresh Produce Association (United Fresh), the American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI) and, representing food safety advocates, the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

    The food industry has thrown its considerable weight behind the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 draft legislation, which is currently still in draft form. Among those publicly expressing their support for the legislation -- along with modifications that they maintain will bolster the final law -- are the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), the United Fresh Produce Association (United Fresh), the American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI) and, representing food safety advocates, the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

    GMA president and CEO Pamela Bailey yesterday testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health regarding the draft legislation, which was introduced by committee chair Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.). The hearing marked a crucial stage in the development of the food safety legislation, which will lead to the final bill eventually passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama, most likely this year.

    “We strongly support in concept many of the proposals in the draft, including those that require food companies to have a food safety plan; proposals for FDA to set safety standards for fruit and vegetables; proposals to improve the safety of imported food and food ingredients; a risk-based approach to inspection that recognizes the important role played by states and competent foreign authorities; and proposals to give FDA strong enforcement powers to deal with companies that have violated food safety laws, including mandatory recall authority when needed,” said Bailey. “Together, these reforms will prevent contamination, raise the bar for the entire food industry and deter bad actors. In addition, we have also offered important modifications to the draft to committee staff and will continue to work with them on a bipartisan basis to address those provisions.”

    “FMI supports many policy initiatives in the draft Food Safety Enhancement Act legislation because they are clearly intended to prevent problems in the food supply before they ever occur,” noted FMI president and CEO Leslie G. Sarasin in a statement. “Preventing food safety problems from occurring by mitigating risk must be the guiding principle for changes,”

    United Fresh Produce Association president and CEO Tom Stenzel urged members of the House of Representatives “to clearly and unequivocally” support science-based, commodity-specific standards in the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009.

    After adoption of guiding principles for federal food safety oversight by the United Fresh board of directors in January 2007, the association has testified before Congress some 10 times prior to this week’s consideration of the specific Energy and Commerce committee bill that is likely to advance to full House consideration.

    “Over the past two years, we have been able to build the consensus in Congress that recognizes that fresh produce demands a commodity-specific approach -- one size does not fit all,” Stenzel said. “Every major piece of food safety legislation introduced by the many players in Congress incorporates these principles that we’ve fought for, and now we must ensure that the final bill that comes out of the Energy and Commerce Committee is clear in its support for this approach.”

    Stenzel’s testimony addressed the draft legislation through the lens of United’s broad policy-guiding principles demanding a commodity-specific approach based on the best available science, consistent and equitable standards no matter whether a produce commodity is grown domestically in the United States or imported into the country, and sufficient federal oversight of compliance to be most credible to consumers.

    Stenzel further recommended a number of areas where the draft bill needs to be strengthened to garner the industry’s support, including commodity-specific produce safety standards, traceability requirements, fair treatment of domestic and imported foods, categorization of fresh processing facilities for FDA inspection, geographical quarantine authority, country-of-origin labeling, and facility registration fees.

    AFFI president and CEO Kraig R. Naasz’s testimony was in a similar vein, indicating general approval while reserving the right to recommend key changes to the bill. “While AFFI supports the general direction of the draft legislation, AFFI indicated its strong desire to work with the committee members and staff to modify provisions such as traceability requirements, country of origin labeling requirements and user fees,” the group noted.

    CPSI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal also testified in support of the legislation, but, like the others who submitted statements at the hearing, expressed the need for some crucial modifications. The organization’s stated position is “that rapid passage of the Food Safety Enhancement Act is the best hope for making America’s food safer.”

    “Fixing food safety at FDA is long overdue,” she said. “The agency is trying to regulate food from all over the world with a 100-year-old toolbox. This bill gives both the food industry and the government new responsibilities for assuring that the food consumers eat won’t make them ill. ”

    The organization had some recommended further changes to the food safety system, however, such as dividing FDA into two separate industries (one focused on food and another on medical products), and the addition to the legislation of a clearer mandate for testing and reporting of test results to FDA and stronger mandates for the agency to set performance standards; a definition of “risk-based” inspection that covers the entire food supply; and that meat and seafood regulated by FDA face the same regulatory oversight as those products regulated by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.

    The food safety advocacy groups are also calling for tighter regulation of food additives and a limit on the use of antibiotics in agriculture.

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