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Industry and consumer groups push for action on stalled food safety bill

Industry and consumer groups push for action on stalled food safety bill

A group of 21 organizations representing the food industry, public health and consumers are asking the Senate to schedule a vote on the Food Safety Modernization Act “at the soonest possible date.”

A group of 21 organizations representing the food industry, public health and consumers are asking the Senate to schedule a vote on the Food Safety Modernization Act “at the soonest possible date.”

The groups, which include the Food Marketing Institute, Consumers Union and Center for Science in the Public Interest as well as the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., after Reid said on Sept. 16 he was shelving the legislation until after midterm elections.

Five of the 21 organizations held a press conference Monday to urge passage of the bill.

Reid blamed the impasse on Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who said on his website that he would block the legislation because of objections to the cost—estimated at $1.6 billion over five years—and what he called “burdensome new regulations.”

In August, key Senate leaders announced they had reached agreement on various provisions of the legislation and said they planned to bring the bill to a vote this month. The bill would strengthen enforcement authority of the Food and Drug Administration, require more frequent inspections of food plants and require food manufacturers and processors to have preventive control plans in place.

“Strong food safety legislation will reduce the risk of contamination and thereby better protect health and safety, raise the bar for the food industry and deter bad actors,” the coalition of groups said in its letter. “Our organizations urge you to bring (the bill) to the floor, and we will continue to work with Congress for the enactment of food safety legislation… .”

Jennifer Hatcher, senior vice president of government relations for the Food Marketing Institute, said in a statement: “We are extremely disappointed that the U.S. Senate has decided not to take up the Food and Drug Administration Food Safety Modernization Act before going to recess. All of us—food industry, business groups, consumer groups—believe this bi-partisan legislation should be passed by the Senate without further delay.”

Christine Bushway, CEO and executive director of the Organic Trade Association, pointed out that hearings scheduled this week by the House Energy and Commerce Committee on the salmonella outbreak and subsequent recall of hundreds of millions of eggs by Galt, Iowa-based Wright County Egg will continue to put the spotlight on food safety issues.

“We’ve done a tremendous amount of work on this legislation since day one,” Bushway said. “We are concerned about it being held up. We will reaffirm our support for the bill with our key people on the Hill and hope that it still will get passed.”

U.S. PIRG Public Health Advocate Liz Hitchcock also made note of the Wright County Egg hearings. “It's troubling to hear Senator Reid announce that the Senate may do nothing to make food safer this month as the House prepares for a hearing on the recall of a half billion eggs because of salmonella contamination,”

Hitchcock said in a statement. “As details emerge about the appalling conditions at the Wright County egg facility, requiring regular inspections at food factories and giving the FDA mandatory recall authority can only be seen as common sense solutions. Millions of Americans get sick and thousands of people die because of food borne illness each year. Let's hope the Senate can get past this partisan impasse and finish the job of protecting American families from unsafe food."

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