Food and organics industry officials are praising an agreement by key Senate leaders to bring pending food safety legislation to a vote in September when the Senate reconvenes.
Six Senate leaders including Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa; ranking member Mike Enzi, R-Wyo.; and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Judd Gregg, R-N.H., authors of the Food and Drug Administration Food Safety Modernization Act, issued a statement promising quick consideration of the bill by the full Senate.
“With this announcement, we aim to not just patch and mend our fragmented food safety system, we hope to reinforce the infrastructure, close the gaps and create a systematic, risk-based and balanced approach to food safety in the U.S.,” the joint statement said. “The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act will place more emphasis on prevention of foodborne illness and will provide new tools to respond to food safety problems.”
The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee released a new manager's package of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act Aug. 12 that gives the FDA additional resources to hire new inspectors and requires the FDA to inspect food facilities more frequently; gives the FDA the authority to order mandatory recalls; and requires the FDA to establish a pilot project to test and evaluate new methods for rapidly tracking foods in the event of a foodborne illness outbreak; and requires facilities that manufacture, process, pack or hold food to have preventive control plans to address identified hazards and prevent adulteration.
“We commend the bi-partisan group of six Senate leaders who worked diligently to negotiate a manager’s package of The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act,” said Leslie Sarasin, president and CEO of the Food Marketing Institute. “Consumers have the right to expect that the food they purchase is safe, affordable and meets the highest quality standards. We are pleased to see the process moving forward and we urge the Senate to take up this bill as soon as they return from recess.”
Tom O’Brien, the Produce Marketing Association’s representative in Washington, D.C., said the organization was looking carefully at the manager’s package, but that the group was “generally pleased. It signals that the Senate may soon take up the bill.” O’Brien said a briefing on the package “really showed good bipartisan support and a good working relationship.”
The Organic Trade Association had been meeting with Enzi’s staff to include certain provisions in the bill, such as:
• The agreement maintains language that prevents regulations that would force certified organic operations to duplicate or that conflicts with requirements in the Organic Food Production Act.
• Provisions include technical assistance to be provided through local governments for operations that will be subject to the new law.
• The new language also requires the FDA and USDA to coordinate efforts to be sure food safety requirements are flexible according to the size and risk of fruit and vegetable growers. Smaller, low-risk produce growers can be exempt.
“OTA has worked extensively on food safety reform over the past year,” said OTA Executive Director Christine Bushway. “OTA supports food safety reform and is educating members of Congress and their staff on the steps already taken by organic producers that align with the goals of food safety reform including: business registration, record keeping and audits, as well as inspection requirements.
“OTA is advocating that organic producers, while meeting food safety goals, should not be required to use materials or practices that are prohibited by the National Organic Program. Additionally, OTA is making Congress aware of the strict record keeping already in place so that organic producers will not have to implement duplicative traceback and record-keeping systems.”
The new agreement does not include a ban on the chemical Bisphenol A in food packaging. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who had proposed that the ban be included, said she would offer an amendment to the new bill banning BPA from baby bottles, sippy cups, baby food and infant formula.