WASHINGTON — New legislation introduced in Congress last week seeks to strengthen the Food and Drug Administration's ability to monitor food safety.
The measures — one bill that was introduced in the Senate and another that was expected late last week in the House — follow recent calls from major industry associations for a stronger FDA following a series of outbreaks of foodborne illnesses.
“Recent outbreaks, recalls and food-safety scares have revealed weaknesses in our current system and new challenges in an ever-changing global marketplace that the Food Safety Modernization Act will help to address,” Leslie G. Sarasin, president and chief executive officer, Food Marketing Institute, wrote in a letter to Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., last week as he introduced the Senate bill.
Both bills were said to be similar to legislation introduced last year that died amid the economic crisis and a busy election cycle.
This year's legislation stands a better chance of getting through Congress, noted Tom O'Brien, the Washington representative for the Produce Marketing Association, citing the number of high-ranking sponsors from both parties.
“I think the bills, if they get enacted, will restore consumer confidence in FDA, which in turn restores confidence in the food supply,” O'Brien told SN. “They modernize FDA's authorities, and they tell it that they should regulate based on the risk of any particular commodity.”
The Senate bill broadens the legislative authority of the FDA with regard to food safety by giving it the power to mandate a recall; by expanding access to records in a food emergency; and by increasing inspections. It also requires importers to verify the safety of foreign suppliers and imported food, and allows the FDA to deny entry to food that lacks certification or comes from a foreign facility that has refused U.S. inspectors.
It also requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services to establish a pilot project to test produce traceability initiatives.
In her letter to Sen. Durbin, Sarasin also said FMI was “encouraged with changes made to the provision that would require the FDA to develop a system to recognize accredited third-party certification programs,” although she cautioned that the FDA “must not attempt to deputize private-sector auditors.”
The Senate bill provides for new FDA funding through fees for certain testing, but separate congressional appropriations bills call for additional funding.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association, Washington, and the American Frozen Food Institute, McLean, Va., both said they welcomed the new bills.
“In particular, GMA supports proposals requiring all food companies to have a comprehensive food safety plan in place,” GMA President and Chief Executive Officer Pam Bailey said in a statement.