SALEM, Ohio — Spinach. Peanuts. Pistachios. Sprouts.
Continued national food recalls because of possible contamination have triggered calls for stricter food safety measures for several years. Last year alone, more than 75 food safety legislative proposals were introduced in Congress, according to the Produce Marketing Association.
But the calls are getting louder, and last month President Barack Obama created a new Food Safety Working Group, chaired by the secretaries of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture.
“There is no doubt that some significant changes will be forthcoming from Congress and the Obama administration,” said Brian Todd, president of The Food Institute, in a prepared statement.
And the two bills getting the most attention on the Hill are Rep. John Dingell’s Food and Drug Administration Globalization Act (HR 759), and The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510), introduced by Sen. Richard Durbin, and a similar bill, H.R. 875, introduced by Rep. Rosa DeLauro.
Most of the bills address trace-back of food products as a big issue. After all, proponents say, how can you issue a recall and remove potentially contaminated food, if you have no way of knowing where that food is?
The Food and Drug Administration Globalization Act, sponsored by political powerhouse John Dingell of Michigan, overhauls the structure of the current Food and Drug Administration, and would extend food processing traceability recordkeeping requirements to farms and restaurants. It would also create minimum production standards for fruits and vegetables and establish Good Agricultural Practices for produce, or guidelines to reduce potential contamination.
Over in the Senate, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act would also include a traceability measure, although as a pilot project to test new methods for tracking fruits and vegetables in the event of a foodborne illness outbreak.
It would also require facilities to identify hazard analysis and preventive controls.
HAACP, or hazard analysis and critical control point, identification is nothing new and many within the food industry already use, but the bill would make mandatory. The Durbin bill would also expand FDA access to records in a food emergency, and require importers to verify the safety of foreign suppliers and imported food.
The bill would also grant the FDA authority to deny entry to a food that is from a foreign facility that has refused U.S. inspectors.
This isn’t the first time Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., have teamed up on food safety legislation. The legislators introduced food safety-related bills in 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008 and again in 2009, and have long championed a single agency to govern food in the United States.
DeLauro’s proposal would split the FDA, which has jurisdiction over 80 percent of the food supply, into two agencies — one responsible for food safety and a second responsible for regulations of drugs and devices. The bill addressed only those food safety issues under current FDA jurisdiction; it does not cover foods regulated by the USDA (beef, pork, poultry, lamb and catfish).
It would also focus on preventing contamination in the first place, calling for preventive controls and food safety plans in place where food is produced, stronger inspections of food establishments and beefed up traceback requirements. The new Food Safety Administration would also have the authority to conduct on-farm inspections for food safety.
In particular, DeLauro’s bill has generated a lot of interest and even more misinformation, so much so that some of the statements are now dubbed an “urban legend” and refuted on Snopes.com, side-by-side with scam alerts of the “Oprah Millionaire Contest Show,” and DeLauro has posted a “myths and facts” fact sheet on her Web site.
In particular, rumors were circulating that the bill was masterminded by agribusiness giant Monsanto, would mean the “death of organic farming,” would implement the National Animal ID System, and would make it illegal to plant a backyard garden.
Not true, says DeLauro’s office.
There is no language in the bill that would regulate or shut down farmers’ markets; there is no language in the bill that would regulate backyard gardens; there is no language in the bill that would interfere with organic farming, and there is no language in the bill regarding animal ID.
And the hype may be moot anyway. Washington insiders expect the Dingell bill will be the likely food safety measure moving through the House, although elements of DeLauro’s bill and others could be incorporated.
Congress continues its Easter recess through April 17.