Food Safety Bill Under ReviewMay 28, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP
President Obama Announced A Cabinet-Level Food Safety
We recently reported that President Barack Obama announced a Cabinet-level food safety group, plans to increase the number of U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) food inspectors, and plans to bring food safety labs to current standards. Now, according to the Washington Post, proposed food safety legislation was just introduced in the House.
The bill, said the Washington Post, which was introduced by the Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman (Democrat-California) and Representative John D. Dingell (Democrat-Michigan), would give the FDA expanded authority such as the ability to recall tainted food—a power the agency does not currently hold. The FDA would also be able to "quarantine" questionable food; impose civil penalties and increase criminal sanctions on violators; and mandate private laboratories hired by food manufacturers report any food contamination to the government, the paper added.
FDA Routinely Criticized
The FDA has been routinely criticized for lax oversight on drug safety, medical device safety, and food safety issues that include the historic and massive salmonella outbreak linked to horrendous conditions at the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA). That outbreak sickened over 900 people and was linked to at least nine deaths; 46 states were involved and over 3,000 products were recalled, making it the largest food recall in American history. According to the Washington Post, federal officials believe that tens of thousands more people were likely sickened.
Although a number of other deadly and widespread outbreaks have plagued the nation in recent years, it was the disgusting conditions and ongoing negligence involved in the PCA debacle that forced serious food safety reform. The scandals revealed during the outbreak highlighted myriad problems with current food safety processes and prompted attention from President Barack Obama, said the Washington Post; the president continues to take steps to correct the issues hampering the beleaguered agency.
"This is a major step forward," said Erik Olson, director of food and consumer product safety at the Pew Charitable Trusts, quoted the Washington Post. "This has really been needed for decades. We're still operating under a food and drug law signed by Teddy Roosevelt," Olson added.
The bill addressed a number of issues that came to light during the PCA Salmonella fiasco in which PCA knowingly shipped Salmonella-contaminated nuts and nut products to a number of manufacturers who, then, used the toxic ingredients in untold numbers of consumer food products, said the Washington Post. The scandal also revealed that PCA’s Georgia plant had not been inspected for seven years and its Texas plant was operating under the radar of state and federal officials, said the Washington Post, which added that PCA-hired private laboratories detected contamination on numerous occasions, but never reported the problems.
Also, noted the Washington Post, those responsible for the clean up had countless problems trying to figure out what products were involved. Because of this, the bill has a provision requiring all those involved in the food chain to maintain records to enable appropriate and speedy trace-back within the chain in the event of an outbreak of any size, explained the Washington Post.
Although trade group The Grocery Manufacturers Association supports a lot of the proposal, it does not support a proposed $1,000 annual registration fee for food facilities, nor does it approve some tracing mandates, claiming the proposed requirements are financially prohibitive, said the Washington Post.
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