New Legislation Should Be Passed Quickly, Food Safety Advocates Urge
Bill Gives FDA New Power and Resources to Prevent Contaminated Food
WASHINGTON—Food safety advocates, led by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, say that rapid passage of the Food Safety Enhancement Act is the best hope for making America's food safer. CSPI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal testified in support of the legislation today, on behalf of the consumer and public health groups that are members of the Safe Food Coalition.
The legislation responds to a series of nationwide outbreaks and recalls involving peanut butter, pet food, spinach, hot peppers, and other foods regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. These outbreaks have caused a serious drop in consumer confidence over the last few years, according to the testimony of the groups.
The Food Safety Enhancement Act includes many measures that food safety experts have urged for years, including a requirement for food companies to conduct hazard analysis programs and to institute preventive control measures. It also would require the FDA to conduct more-frequent inspections of food processing facilities. While today FDA inspects food factories only about once every ten years, the Food Safety Enhancement Act would require inspections for high-risk facilities every six to 18 months and all facilities, including warehouses, every four years.
The bill also would give the FDA something that most consumers probably think the agency already has: the authority to order companies to recall potentially contaminated food. And it provides the FDA with a much broader range of criminal and civil penalties to punish unscrupulous processors who knowingly allow tainted foods onto supermarket shelves.
"Fixing food safety at FDA is long overdue," DeWaal said. "The agency is trying to regulate food from all over the world with a 100-year-old toolbox. This bill gives both the food industry and the government new responsibilities for assuring that the food consumers eat won’t make them ill."
The bill, however, does not accomplish some of the structural changes urged by CSPI and others, such as dividing the FDA into two separate agencies, one focused on food and another on medical products. CSPI hopes Congress and the Obama Administration will do that after the bill is passed.
The Safe Food Coalition is also asking Congress to strengthen the legislation in several ways, including:
- a clearer mandate for testing and reporting of test results to FDA and stronger mandates for the agency to set performance standards;
- a definition of "risk-based" inspection that covers the entire food supply; and
- that meat and seafood regulated by FDA face the same regulatory oversight as those products regulated by USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service.
The groups are also recommending stricter oversight of food additives, some of which are declared "generally recognized as safe" without FDA review even though they can cause life-threatening allergic reactions or heart disease. Similarly, consumer groups are urging legislators to limit the use of antibiotics in agriculture to control the growth of antibiotic-resistant pathogens in foods.
Contact Jeff Cronin (jcronin[at]cspinet.org) or Ariana Stone (astone[at]cspinet.org).