It’s better to be safe than sorry. That is at least the mindset of the Chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee, Henry Waxman (D-California), and his sidekick, John Dingell (D-Michigan). These two individuals are currently at the forefront of The Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009. The purpose of this legislation is to establish a more efficient food safety plan and enforce safety standards in all food production facilities. The efforts associated with the bill’s primary goal are increasing the amount of inspections performed at facilities, maintaining records for traceability of contaminated foods, focusing on the importation of safe foods, and enforcing regulation in the form of penalties if violations of standards occur.

In the Energy and Commerce Committee’s publication Energy and Commerce Leaders Release Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 Draft, Rep. Waxman stated, “The current state of our food safety system is dangerous not just for the American public, but also for the food industry itself. This bill recognizes that the hallmark of strong food safety legislation must be a shared responsibility for food safety oversight between FDA and industry. This legislation will go a long way toward restoring Americans' confidence in our food supply.”

After drafting the bill, to gain support of the Republicans, the Democrats agreed to a few changes. An annual registration fee for all food production facilities to be paid to the FDA was originally $1,000. This fee was cut in half and a cap was also established for those companies with over 350 locations to pay a maximum annual fee of $175,000. According to the Wall Street Journal, the bill is requiring 378,000 food facilities, including 223,000 overseas to pay the fee.

The FDA commissioner, Dr. Margaret Hamburg(er), insists that the fees will not be ample resources for the agency to carry out its new responsibilities. According to a NY Times article covering the same story, the bill would require more frequent inspections to be performed at least once every four years and for those facilities at high risk of being contaminated will be inspected every 18 months. This responsibility is where most of the FDA’s resources will be allocated.

Some argue that this legislation was weakened by negotiations. Another modification of the bill was to the requirement of an intensive record-keeping system. The FDA must first delve deeper and explore the best method for food manufacturers to maintain records and the costs and benefits related to the tedious process. There goes another chunk of the agency’s resources.

Almost two weeks ago, the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved the legislation and it will hopefully be a big step towards revamping the food industry’s image. Consumers have lost a great deal of confidence in our nation’s food system due to the amount of recent cases in the U.S. related to food-borne illnesses. The spread of salmonella in peanuts this past year has provided a greater push for this legislation.

The FDA currently has limited resources and by its actions, or should I say reactions, has shown that it has difficulty preventing the release of contaminated food to consumers. The main challenge the agency faces is trying to trace the contaminated food back to its source. Figuring out the root of the problem is a timely process. Hopefully, the detailed records of facilities will enable the FDA to transition itself from a reactive agency to a proactive one.

This bill would also provide more authority to the FDA. The agency will be able to order food recalls, require companies to follow all of the food safety standards, and hold companies responsible if a contaminated food product is linked back to them. Private laboratories will also be required to provide reports of any signs of bacteria or other causes of contaminated foods in facilities. With all this new power, the FDA should think about changing its name to the FPA (Food Police Agency).

Many companies are off the hook for now, as the bill does not address meat and poultry production facilities. These are overlooked by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This exemption may not be for very long as there have been discussions of creating a single agency to consolidate all regulation in the food safety system. One agency in control of all food produced and distributed in the United States would be ideal. It’s similar to having one consolidated invoice for your telecommunications spend. It just makes sense.

No vote has been scheduled to take place for this bill yet, and similar talks have not yet been fully discussed in the Senate. Let’s hope this bill will enable the FDA to better detect a food-borne illness before it is released and accessible to consumers. Some individuals think the new requirements set forth by this legislation will not strengthen the food safety system but rather just create more burdensome, costly tasks for food producers. We must weigh our options – expensive recalls and hospitalized consumers or stronger regulation and restored confidence in the nation’s food supply chain. I think this move is a positive step towards a safer food supply chain. Our nation’s health is the main concern, and actions are needed to protect it. This bill is way overdue.
Share To:

Kathleen Jordan

Post A Comment:

0 comments so far,add yours