The House Energy and Commerce Committee last week approved legislation that would give the FDA more funding and power to police food safety. The unanimous voice vote for a version of the bill offered by committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D., Calif.) came after extensive negotiations between Democrats and Republicans. The “Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009,” H.R. 2749, will now go to the entire House.
The bill comes at least in part in response to recent outbreaks of illnesses traced to tainted spinach, peanuts, hot peppers and other foods. The legislation would give the FDA greater authority to order food recalls, impose new civil penalties, and require inspections of so-called high-risk food facilities at least once a year. It also calls for companies to keep detailed records to help the FDA more quickly trace the distribution of tainted foods and track the source of the contamination. Specifically, the FDA would be required to issue regulations that require food producers, manufacturers, processors, transporters or holders to maintain the full pedigree of the origin and previous distribution history of the food and to link that history with the subsequent distribution history of the food.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association, a food industry group, released a statement in support of the bill, after Democrats agreed to a number of changes. (For example, they added a cap so no company would be charged more than $175,000 in fees to pay for the new bill.) Critics of the bill argue that it would impose a one-size-fits-all regulatory scheme on big and small farms and on national and local food producers; does not address the major underlying causes of food safety problems such as industrial agriculture practices and the consolidation of our food supply. Others assert that the bill, by apparently empowering the FDA to regulate how crops are raised and harvested, puts the federal government right on the farm, dictating to farmers “good farming practices” on organic farming, use of manure, GMO animal feed, animal drugs, and petrochemical fertilizers and pesticide issues.
At last report, the House hasn’t scheduled a vote on the legislation. In the Senate, Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin has introduced similar food-safety legislation.