Lawmakers Seek Food Safety ChangesFeb 5, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP Amid the colossal salmonella outbreak, and following a number of highly publicized food borne contamination outbreaks last year, Congress is seeking to add increased power to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in an effort to better protect consumers from what seems to be rampant negligence, scandal, and ineptitude in the food industry. Fox News called the current series of recalls one of the largest in FDA history, saying that Capitol Hill is scrambling to impose stringent reforms on America’s food producers and distributors.
Representative Rosa DeLaura told Fox News, 'there is no single person who has responsibility for food safety. The bill would give a new Food Safety Administration ... its own budget ... scientists, and the power to issue mandatory recalls. Under the current rules, the Food and Drug Administration needed the company's permission to launch the recall ... and had to resort to using a bioterrorism law to access records showing a dozen instances of salmonella at the plant.” DeLaura was referring to recent news that the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) plant responsible for the massive salmonella outbreak had recorded one dozen instances of testing positive for salmonella, yet continued to produce and distribute products versus sanitizing the plant and issuing recalls. Instead, it sought out another independent test facility, seeking test results that better suited its needs.
Representative DeLauro reintroduced her plan yesterday for a restructuring of the FDA, said the Hartford Courant. Long a critic of the FDA, DeLauro said that the agency has routinely failed to do what it is charged to do. As part of her proposed plan—the Food Safety Modernization Act—DeLauro recommended that the agency be split, with one responsible for food safety and the other for drug safety, said the Hartford Courant. Food safety responsibilities would fall under the purview of an agency to be headed by President Barack Obama’s pending pick for food safety administrator.
"The tragedies are preventable if we have the will to fix the system. The push for change could not be more urgent," said DeLauro, who is also seeking one agency to handle all food safety duties within the government, reported the Courant. Today, those responsibilities are split across an array of agencies including the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The bill has 30 co-sponsors, said DeLauro, and only looks at current FDA responsibilities, which, reported the Courant, include the vast majority—80 percent—of the food supply.
The bill would look at prevention of food borne illness, producers controls, increased standards, and routine inspections. In the event of an outbreak, the food agency could actually mandate recalls; seize questionable, potentially dangerous, food products; and fine noncompliant companies, said the Courant. Said DeLauro of the current outbreak, "It represents the full-scale breakdown of a patchwork food-safety system."
Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported that the peanut items recalled reached 1,100—believed to be the largest human food recall in history, which is striking because PCA, the firm solely responsible for the outbreak, only produces an estimated one percent of U.S. peanut products. The AP also noted that four major bills are underway to reform the food safety system and while all provide recall authority to the FDA, enhancements to imported food standards, and production safety standards, there are differences on how, for instance, inspections should be conducted.