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    Senate Passes Food Safety Modernization Act

    Produce groups decry bill’s risk- and science-based ‘loopholes.’

    The U.S. Senate on Tuesday approved the first major food safety legislation in more than 70 years that will provide the Food and Drug Administration with additional resources and authority to issue mandatory recalls to help strengthen the nation’s food safety system by focusing on prevention.

    While the vast majority of the food industry’s major trade associations and consumer groups are cheering the Senate’s 73-to-25 bipartisan passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act, the produce industry’s leading trade groups are holding out hope that as S. 510 moves to the House of Representatives for consideration, House leaders will reject what is described as a “flawed agreement that flies in the face of sound science.”

    After the vote on the landmark legislation, Robert Guenther, SVP of public policy for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association, said: “We are disappointed that the Senate continues to ignore the egregious loopholes allowed in this legislation that will erode consumer confidence in our nation’s food safety system. Now, when going to a supermarket, restaurant, farmers market or roadside stand, consumers will be faced with the question of whether the fruits and vegetables offered for sale adhere to basic food safety standards or not.

    “Unfortunately,” Guenther continued, “instead of adhering to a science- and risk-based approach that was consistently the foundation of the underlying bill, the Senate has chosen to include a provision that will exempt certain segments of the food industry based on the size of operation, geographic location and customer base, and creates “a gaping hole in the ability of consumers to trust the safety of all foods in the commercial marketplace.”

    Bryan Silbermann, president & CEO of the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association (PMA), said while his organization supported the original Senate bill and has long backed efforts to modernize food safety laws to protect public health and enhance consumer confidence, “unfortunately, recent language added to that bill did not align with PMA’s fundamental position of risk- and science-based food safety efforts, resulting in our recent opposition. We stand firm that the entire produce industry must be committed to providing safe fruits and vegetables, no exceptions, because pathogens don’t discriminate based on company size, commodity or distance to market.”

    As the bill makes it way to the House, which passed its own bill more than a year ago, Silbermann said PMA – which supports many reforms included in the Food Safety Modernization Act, including requirements for written food safety plans; a broad view that addresses both U.S. and non-U.S. produce; mandatory recall authority for the FDA; and commodity-specific protocols for fresh produce -- will continue working toward food safety reform that truly protects public health and confidence.

    Added United Fresh’s Guenther: “As S. 510 moves to the House of Representatives, we strongly encourage the House leadership to request a conference to reconcile differences between the House-passed food safety legislation and the flawed Senate bill. The House bill makes no arbitrary exemptions from basic food safety standards. This principle is at risk of being discarded for temporary convenience to pass a bill, but it is a fundamental mistake that will come back to haunt consumers, the food industry and even those producers who think they are escaping from food safety requirements. The House should give due diligence to conference these bills, not accept a flawed agreement that flies in the face of sound science.”

    Meanwhile, Leslie Sarasin, president/CEO of the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), said passage of  the Food Safety Modernization Act “represents more than two years of thoughtful, bipartisan efforts that included industry, consumer groups and all other stakeholders working toward a shared goal of improving our nation’s food safety system. We have taken another important step toward modernizing America’s food safety network and focusing on preventing problems before they occur, rather than just reacting to them,” said Sarasin, commending Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Michael Enzi (R- Wyo.) “for their steadfast work on the bill. Now it is imperative that the House and Senate immediately reconcile the differences between their two proposals and find a path for a food safety bill to be enacted into law by the end of the year.”

    Pamela G. Bailey, president/CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), also applauded the Senate for passing S. 510, “which provides FDA with the resources and authorities the agency needs to help strengthen our nation’s food safety system by making prevention the focus of our food safety strategies.

    “On behalf of GMA and its member companies, I want to especially thank Committee Chairman Harkin, Ranking Member Enzi and Senators Durbin, Burr and Gregg for their steadfast commitment to moving this important, bipartisan legislation forward.  The food and beverage industry is committed to partnering with Congress, the Administration and the FDA to strengthen and modernize our nation’s food safety system,” said Bailey, who urged the House “to swiftly follow suit so that the President can sign this important legislation as soon as possible.”

    John Connelly, president of the National Fisheries Institute (NFI), said the bipartisan legislation “demonstrates Congress’ confidence in seafood HACCP -- FDA’s successful preventative controls concept.  As Congress further strengthens FDA, now is not the time to cannibalize the nation’s leading food safety agency by carving out some sectors of seafood for regulation by USDA,” said Connelly.

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