New food safety legislation revives old ideas

by Keith Nunes
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WASHINGTON — Food industry advocates pushing for a stronger Food and Drug Administration reacted quickly to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s discussion draft of legislation titled the Food and Drug Administration Globalization Act of 2008. Most notably, the draft legislation would require food companies to pay a $2,000 fee per facility that the committee estimated would generate $600 million for food safety initiatives, which is double the agency’s current food safety budget allocation.

"The user fees proposed in the draft are unfair food taxes imposed on food manufacturers that will only work to arbitrarily increase the cost of food for consumers at the worst possible time — when thousands of Americans are already struggling to hold on to their homes and pay their already skyrocketing grocery bills," said Dr. Robert Brackett, senior vice-president and chief science and regulatory affairs officer for the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

The draft legislation comes less than a month after the G.M.A. called for a $380 million increase in the fiscal year 2009 budget of the F.D.A. Of the $380 million, $150 million would be intended for food safety-related activities and $100 million would be used to upgrade the F.D.A.’s information technology systems.

The draft incorporates legislative proposals by Representative John Dingell of Michigan, Representative Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, Representative Bart Stupak of Michigan and Representative Diana DeGette of Colorado, as well as the findings from investigations conducted by the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the Committee on Energy and Commerce and the F.D.A.’s science board. The Committee on Energy and Commerce will hold hearings in the coming weeks.

Contained within the draft legislation are several past legislative initiatives, including mandatory recall authority and country-of-origin labeling.

"With a record number of food recalls over the last year we must ensure the safety of our food products by giving government the tools to strengthen the system," Ms. DeGette said. "While tainted foods have been recalled voluntarily, many should have happened quicker to avoid further distribution of the contaminated product and sickness."

The discussion draft also called for the creation of an up-to-date registry of all food manufacturing facilities serving U.S. consumers. The cost of registration would be $2,000 per facility, and used to support the F.D.A.’s food safety efforts.

Both domestic and foreign food manufacturers also may be allowed to receive certification through F.D.A.-accredited third-party agents. Certification would indicate that all applicable U.S. food safety requirements are being met by the facility, and the F.D.A. would make the list available to the public. Food processors exporting to the U.S., but not taking part in the third-party certification program would be required to ship products only through ports of entry with federal testing laboratories.

The F.D.A. also would be charged with creating voluntary security guidelines for imported foods. Importers meeting the guidelines would receive expedited inspection in return.

"New rigid regulatory provisions in the draft will stifle industry innovation, and broad new enforcement powers are unnecessary, burdensome and will be untenably costly for the F.D.A.," Mr. Brackett said. "We are supportive of reforms that will truly result in safer foods for consumers, but think there are better, more efficient and effective ways to accomplish this goal than those outlined in this draft bill."

The discussion draft revives the debate regarding country-of-origin labeling of imported foods by requiring all processed food labels to indicate the country in which final processing occurred. Taking the initiative a step further, food processors exporting to the U.S. would be required to post the country-of-origin on their web sites for all of the ingredients in their products.

"Food safety is the No. 1 priority for the food and beverage industry and we are committed to working with Congress to pass common-sense, realistic, effective reforms to our nation’s food safety system within this year," Mr. Brackett said. "That said, the Food and Drug Administration Globalization Act of 2008 as drafted for discussion creates unnecessary regulatory burdens, over-broad enforcement power, and would likely result in a further increase in food prices."

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Food Business News, April 29, 2008, starting on Page 22. Click here to search that archive.

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