Senate committee approves food safety bill

by Erica Shaffer
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WASHINGTON -- The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (H.E.L.P.) approved by voice vote the F.D.A. Food Safety Modernization Act. The legislation is now headed to the Senate floor for final approval.

In a prepared statement, Leslie G. Sarasin, president and chief executive officer of the Food Marketing Institute, said that any legislation must address the issues of providing safety, high-quality, nutritious and affordable food and restore public confidence in the safety of the country’s food supply.

“America’s food retailers, wholesalers, and the entire supply chain and government have a responsibility to work together to improve the safety of our food supply,” Ms. Sarasin said. “We support the bill’s focus on trying to prevent problems before they occur by providing the F.D.A. the necessary resources and authority to help the agency protect our food supply.”

The bill's supporters say it emphasizes prevention of food borne illnesses and gives the Food and Drug Administration new and expanded powers to address food safety issues. Cost of enforcing the legislation was set at $825 million for fiscal year 2010, and “such sums as necessary” for the following five fiscal years.

Highlights of the bill include:

 Hazard analysis and preventive controls that require all processors that manufacture, process, pack or hold food to establish risk-based preventive control plans to address food safety hazards and prevent contamination. The F.D.A. will have access to those plans;

 Requirements for importers that allow the F.D.A. to require certification for high-risk foods and to deny entry to a food that lacks certification or that is from a foreign facility that has refused U.S. inspectors. The senate bill creates a voluntary qualifier program in which certified importers can pay a user fee to expedite entry into the U.S.;

 More frequent inspections by the F.D.A., including inspections of high-risk facilities at least once a year and inspections of other facilities at least once every four years;

 Mandatory recall power for the F.D.A. if the food will cause adverse health consequences or death and the company failed to recall the product upon the F.D.A.’s request;

 Administrative detention authority for the F.D.A., which allows the agency to administratively detain any food that is misbranded or adulterated under the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act; and

 Increased funding for the F.D.A. that will include increased appropriations and targeted fees for facility inspections, recalls, and the voluntary qualified importer program.

“We applaud the H.E.L.P. Committee for its bipartisan approval of the bill which will provide the U.S. Food and Drug Administration with the resources and authorities the agency needs to help make prevention the focus of our food safety strategies," said Pamela G. Bailey, president and c.e.o. of the Grocery Manufacturers Association in a prepared statement. “We look forward to working with the Senate to pass comprehensive food safety legislation.” FSM
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