Late last week, U.S. House leaders released a food safety act draft that, if passed, would help prevent food contamination. But the required fees and technology needed to track foods have some small food producers concerned.
Among other mandates, the law would require all food manufacturers to register with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and pay a $1,000 fee. Producers also will have to consider how they document the history of their food because the administration is looking to expedite the process of tracing food via electronic means.
"This is going to be a hot issue," said Patty Lovera, assistant director of Food and Water Watch. "We're afraid of the burden on small industries and those who are just getting into the industry."
Lovera said the fee structure also sends a mixed message because food producers will be required to pay for their own regulation. She pointed to the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a model that requires the government to pay for company inspections, rather than requiring the companies to pay. But if the fees are going to be required, she recommended they be charged on a sliding-pay scale, so as not to discourage start-ups and small business.
The 120-page bill, which will be heard by the Energy and Commerce Committee on June 3, would grant the FDA more money and authority to protect the nation's food supply.
"This increases the financial, as well as gives the FDA the tools it needs to help protect our food," said Kristofer Eisenla, spokesman for Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver, vice chair of the Committee on Energy and Commerce and co-sponsor of the legislation.
"This bill also gives government mandatory recall power and sets up a way to trace food products for tracking from farm to fork," Eisenla said.
In addition to imposing a fee and giving the FDA mandatory recall authority, the proposed legislation also:
- Requires all companies to prepare food safety plans, which can be audited by the FDA.
- The FDA would issue food safety regulations for produce harvesting and production.
- Inspections of high-risk facilities would be conducted regularly between six to18 months. Lower-risk facilities would be inspected 18 months to three years and warehouses inspected up to four years.
- Food producers, manufacturers, processors, transporters and food holders must maintain the full origin and distribution history of the food. The histories must link to the subsequent distribution history of all food, and a fast-track record must be established.
Since the legislation is in its preliminary stages, Lovera said food producers should take the opportunity to review how they keep records. Many small operations are not automated and the transformation to electronic can be a burden.
"After the salmonella thing, the recall took forever and there is now a lot of pressure to go electronic," she said.
When contacting Congressional representatives, food producers should be prepared to give "real-life examples" of how these issues impact their businesses. Conveying their messages well will help lawmakers produce a meaningful bill that protects the food supply without placing undue pressure on struggling business owners, Lovera said.
"It's kind of a beast of a bill, but it's just starting and people should pay attention," she advised.
The goal, lawmakers say, is to empower the FDA with the authority and resources needed to prevent future food contaminations. The fee would help pay for the new rules and enforcement.
The draft is based on the food provisions of the FDA Globalization Act of 2009. It incorporates technical assistance from the new administration.
Widespread contaminations in the nation's food supply, including E.coli in spinach, salmonella in peppers and salmonella in peanut butter have forced lawmakers to act. This mandate, if passed, would build on legislation introduced earlier this year.