May 25, 2010
Legislating Food Safety

Last year was a busy one for food safety legislation. The thought early in the year was that increased food safety regulations would move forward under a new administration that supported a revamped food safety system in the United States.

But food safety has fallen to the back burner – Congress and the president are more focused right now on debating a health care reform bill, funding military action in Iraq and Afghanistan and repairing the economy. But 2010 may see the passage of a food safety bill, and the produce industry associations have been working hard in Washington, D.C., to ensure legislation is fair and science-based.

A number of food safety-related bills were introduced in 2009, but few will ever make it to the floor of the House of Representatives or Senate. Once a bill is introduced, it can be sent to a committee – or multiple
committees – and then assigned to a subcommittee. A proposed bill must be voted on by the committee before it’s released, and if it doesn’t make it out of committee during the Congressional year, it’s a dead bill. However, the ideas in those bills could be incorporated into another bill, so parts of it could continue on in another form.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee recommended in mid-November that the Senate consider S. 510, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009, introduced in March by Dick Durbin, D-Ill. The Durbin bill expands the authority of the Department of Health and Human Services, which FDA is a part of. The agency would be able to recall food products and order a plant to stop production and shipments. Fees would be assessed on manufacturers, but only for re-inspections, costs associated with a recall and import inspections.

S. 510 moved out of committee with few changes, which is a positive sign for a Senate vote, said Kathy Means, vice president of legislative affairs for the Produce Marketing Association. Once it moves to the Senate floor, there could be amendments tacked on by other Senators, although those can be difficult to predict.

H.R. 2749, the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009, was introduced by John Dingell, D-Mich., in June and passed the House in late June. The bill expands the authority of FDA, calling for registration of plants and testing facilities, requiring food defense plans and best practices for processing and harvesting. The bill also establishes a traceability requirement for food manufacturers and gives FDA the power to recall contaminated product or seize shipments believed to be contaminated.

If the Senate version passes, the two bills would go to committee to hammer out the differences. From there, the bill will go to the president’s desk to be signed into law.
Even with bills like S. 510 moving through Congress, other bills are stuck in committee or still being introduced. A summary of the food safety bills introduced in 2009 follow along with the status and key points of the bills.

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