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The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), the National Fisheries Institute (NFI) and United Fresh Produce Association (United Fresh) are among the national industry trade associations that are applauding a bipartisan effort to promote the Food Safety Modernization Act to strengthen the safety of the food supply.
U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) introduced the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, which, if passed, would result in major reforms to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA).
The bipartisan bill focuses on four key areas where supporters of the legislation claim the Food and Drug Administration's authorities and resources need improvement: foodborne illness prevention, foodborne illness detection and response, food defense capabilities, and resource availability and application generally.
Specifically, the bill would:
--Require all facilities to have in place preventive plans to address identified hazards and prevent adulteration, and give FDA access to these plans and relevant documentation.
--Expand FDA access to records.
--Allow FDA to recognize laboratory accreditation bodies to help ensure U.S. food testing labs meet high quality standards and require results from food testing performed by these labs to be reported to FDA.
--Require importers to verify the safety of foreign suppliers and imported food, provide that FDA require certification for high-risk foods, and deny entry to a food that lacks certification or that's from a foreign facility that has refused U.S. inspectors.
--Increase FDA inspections at all food facilities, providing for annual inspections of high-risk facilities and inspections of other facilities at least once every four years.
--Enhance foodborne illness surveillance systems to improve the collection, analysis, reporting and usefulness of data on foodborne illnesses.
--Require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to establish a pilot project to test and evaluate new methods for rapidly and effectively tracking/tracing fruits and vegetables in the event of a foodborne illness outbreak.
--Give FDA the authority to mandate recall of a food product if a company fails to voluntarily recall product upon FDA's request.
--Empower FDA to suspend a food facility's registration if there is a reasonable probability that food from the facility will cause serious adverse health consequences or death.
--Direct FDA to help food companies protect their products from intentional contamination.
--Increase funding for FDA's food safety activities through increased appropriations and targeted fees for domestic and foreign facilities.
"Ensuring the safety of our products is the food industry's most important priority," said Pam Bailey, GMA's president and CEO, adding that GMA particularly supports proposals requiring all food companies to have a comprehensive food safety plan in place.
"It is absolutely critical that manufacturers take a preventative approach in identifying and evaluating potential hazards, and building food safety into the manufacturing process from the very beginning," added Bailey.
John Connelly, NFI's president, said the legislation "updates and improves earlier food safety efforts without unnecessary restrictions and wasteful redundancies. Forward thinking has recognized that as a country we can't just inspect our way to perfect food safety and we can't simply legislate our way there either." Connelly added that the bill also recognizes "the hard work the FDA has done and continues to do [as well as] the need to provide incentives for members of the seafood community who are dedicated to maintaining the integrity of the food we all enjoy today."
NFI believes that the cornerstone of a successful food safety program is a strong FDA. "A bill like this one highlights the need for enhanced support of the FDA," Connelly continued, noting that NFI would like to see funding for the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition reach $725 million by 2010. The funds could in turn be used to hire more personnel and update some of the center's technology.
Calling the legislation "a positive step forward in crafting needed reforms," Tom Stenzel, United Fresh president and CEO, said, "Industry must do all we can every day to produce the safest possible products, and consumers must have confidence in our overall food safety regulatory system. We therefore commend Sen. Durbin and his colleagues for introducing this important piece of legislation which will further serious congressional consideration of ways to improve our nation's food safety system. It is time for Congress to look at food safety law in its totality and move to implement changes needed to address all areas of food regulation from farm to fork."