Dingell 'discussion draft' proposes heightened food import inspection, and more

by Jay Sjerven
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WASHINGTON — As Congress reconvened following its August recess, advocates for strengthening the nation’s food and drug import inspection procedures hoped to advance legislation. To that end, Representative John D. Dingell of Michigan, chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, before the recess issued a draft of proposed legislation titled the Food and Drug Import Safety Act of 2007.

In an Aug. 3 letter addressed to fellow members of the House of Representatives, Mr. Dingell said, "Twice the amount of food is imported into our country as compared with 10 years ago. Yet the Food and Drug Administration examines less than 1% of these imports. Given the urgency of this pressing concern, we now have the responsibility to create responsible, risk-based legislation that will protect the American public from tainted imports."

Mr. Dingell’s "discussion draft" proposed a user fee to be assessed on food and drug imports to finance enhanced inspections. The fee would be assessed on each line item of food and would not exceed $50 per line.

"The fee would be directed for personnel at both the border and F.D.A. laboratories to expedite processing and fortifying our food and drug safety system," Mr. Dingell said. Mr. Dingell proposed not less than 90% of the fees should be used for inspections, and not more than 10% should be used for research in developing new inspection methods.

The discussion draft proposed restricting food imports to specific ports of entry within five years.

"In general, the secretary (Health and Human Services) shall restrict the importation of food to ports of entry that are located in a metropolitan area with a laboratory of the F.D.A. for testing such food," the draft said. The draft specified conditions under which the secretary would be able to grant waivers to this requirement.

Mr. Dingell proposed a voluntary "safe and secure food importation program" that would expedite movement of food through the inspection process for companies ensuring their food supply chain is safe and secure. The draft required the secretary to develop guidelines for the program.

The discussion draft would prohibit the termination of any of the 13 field laboratories operated by the F.D.A.’s Office of Regulatory Affairs or the consolidation of any such laboratory with any other laboratory. It also would prohibit the termination of any of the 20 district offices "or any of the inspection and compliance functions" of any of the 20 district offices of the F.D.A.

Any plan proposing to terminate or consolidate field laboratories or district offices would have to be submitted to the Comptroller General, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions for their analysis and consideration.

The F.D.A. would be given mandatory recall authority, according to the draft. A summary of the proposal stated: "If the secretary finds there is a reasonable probability that a food would cause serious adverse health consequences or death, the secretary may issue an order requiring the appropriate person to cease distribution.

"Within 10 days of the order to cease distribution, the person has the opportunity for an informal hearing on the actions required by the order and on whether the order should be amended to require a recall," the draft said. "After providing an opportunity for an informal hearing, the secretary may determine to amend the order to require a recall. The secretary will determine a timetable in which the food recall will occur and require periodic reporting describing the recall process."

The draft would require all imported food to meet the same standards that apply to food manufactured in the U.S. This would be monitored via random inspections, sampling and testing. It would require each foreign facility from which food is imported into the U.S. to obtain a certificate stating the facility maintains a program using reliable analytical methods to ensure compliance with U.S. standards. Such facilities would be subject to inspection to retain certification.

The Dingell draft would double civil penalties for manufacturers or importers that violate the act. Penalties would be raised to $100,000 in the case of an individual and $500,000 in the case of a company.

Mr. Dingell’s draft also would require labeling of food to identify its country of origin.

On the domestic front, Mr. Dingell’s proposal would require not later than two years after enactment, as a good manufacturing practice, processed food undergo testing to detect substances in the food that may render it adulterated, including microbial pathogens, toxic chemicals and other substances.

The draft also called for meat, poultry or seafood that includes carbon monoxide to affect coloring to bear a label notifying the consumer of that fact.

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Food Business News, September 4, 2007, starting on Page 25. Click here to search that archive.

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