Food Safety Bill Goes to House Floor – National Consumers League

by Amos Budde, NCL Policy Intern

Once again, news from Capitol Hill:  The House Energy and Commerce committee held a full committee markup on the Food and Safety Enhancement Act yesterday, and it was unanimously adopted and to be sent to the House for a full vote.  Each year, 76 million Americans suffer foodborne illnesses; 5,000 die.  After the recent food scares and recalls of peanut butter, spinach, beef, berries, pet food, tomato products, and more, restoring confidence in the safety of our food supply has finally become a priority in Congress.  This bill aims to fix the gaps in our regulatory system, so that consumers can be sure that their food is safe to eat.

The Food Safety Enhancement Act gives the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) much-needed regulatory authority in a variety of areas, including:

  • Registering food facilities – All food producers in the US must register with the FDA and pay a $500 registration fee that will fund the new safety measures.
  • More inspections – “High risk” food facilities will be inspected every 6 – 18 months.  Many of these facilities are currently inspected only once per decade!
  • Electronic traceability – Food producers must have a “trace back” and “trace forward” system to track of where food is coming from and going to.
  • Giving the FDA more enforcement bite – The bill substantially increases fines for noncompliance with safety legislation.
  • Mandatory recalls – The FDA did not have the authority to do so previously; with the passage of this bill, they will.

The FDA will now be better able to detect problems when they arise and then respond more quickly and effectively.  Follow this link for a more in-depth look at the bill’s contents.

The most encouraging thing about this new approach is that stakeholders from all sides of the debate are coming together to support this bill.  Both Democrats and Republicans in the committee shared personal stories about how food poisoning or other illnesses had affected their own lives and those of their constituents.  Agricultural corporations and organizations like the Grocery Manufacturers of America recognize that food safety concerns were costing industries hundreds of millions of dollars each time a recall was required.

To build consensus and get broad support, the legislation failed to address some important issues, such as the extensive use of human antibiotics in livestock.  Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) offered an amendment on this issue, and while Committee Chair Henry Waxman (D-CA) said he sympathized with Schakowsky, he noted that the issue was not being addressed because it was too controversial.

In what will certainly be a contentious year for the Energy and Commerce Committee, (it has to produce both the Climate Change and Health Care Reform legislation) it seemed like the members were enjoying yesterday’s bipartisanship.  As long as this bill remains free of deal-breakers, it should soon become law.