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Obama to Sign Food Safety Act

The Food Safety Modernization Act is expected to be signed into law by President Obama. This is the first major overhaul of United States food safety laws since 1938. The act gives the FDA new authority to recall tainted food. Under current law, the FDA can recommend a recall but it is ultimately the food companies who voluntarily recall suspect foods. The proposed law also gives additional protections for whistleblowers who report food manufacturing problems related to fraud. The Food Safety Modernization Act applies to the FDA, which affects approximately 80 percent of the food supply. Another 20 percent of the food supply is regulated by the Department of Agriculture and is unaffected by the proposed law. Included in the 20 percent of unaffected food products is all meat, poultry, and some egg related products.

Contamination Oversight
One provision of the Food Safety Modernization Act is a new requirement for manufacturers and farmers to develop anti-contamination protocols. The act also gives the FDA authority to review food industry and farm internal records. Further, the act requires imported food to be certified as meeting US safety standards. The act also increases the frequency of safety inspections at industrial food processing plants. Under current provisions, the FDA inspects plants approximately once every ten years. Under the new proposed law, this will occur at least once every five years at high-risk facilities.

Politics of Food
Sen. Harry Reid notes that 5,000 people die every year in the US due to food poisoning. He notes that the new act empowers the FDA to prevent outbreaks from contaminants such as E. Coli bacteria in the food supply. In an interesting twist, a provision to self-fund the act with user fees collected from food companies was removed from the House version before passage. Republican Rep. Jack Kingston, who has oversight authority of the FDA because he sits on the House appropriations subcommittee, objects to the new law citing that it is too expensive at a cost of $1.4 billion over a period of five years. Had the user fees been included in the proposed law, this issue would not exist. All three GOP lawmakers on the House appropriations subcommittee voted against the Food Safety Modernization Act.

Overview of Provisions
The Food Safety Modernization Act provides for inspection of food production records, registration of food facilities, hazard analysis and risk-based preventive controls, performance standards, standards for produce safety, protection against intentional adulteration of foods, a national agriculture and food defense strategy, food and agriculture coordinating councils, building domestic capacity, sanitary transportation of food, food allergy and anaphylaxis management, and requirements for guidance relating to post harvest processing of raw oysters. Improvements in the capacity to detect and respond to food safety problems include targeting of inspection resources for domestic facilities, foreign facilities, and ports of entry; laboratory accreditation for analyses of foods, an integrated consortium of laboratory networks, enhancing tracking and tracing of food and recordkeeping, mandatory recall authority, administrative detention of food, decontamination and disposal standards and plans, improving the training and continuing education of State, local, territorial, and tribal food safety officials, enhancing food safety, and improving the reportable food registry. Improvements to imported food safety include a foreign supplier verification program, a voluntary qualified importer program, authority to require import certifications for food, prior notice of imported food shipments, building capacity of foreign governments with respect to food safety, inspection of foreign food facilities, accreditation of third-party auditors, foreign offices of the Food and Drug Administration, and controls to identify smuggled food. Other provisions include whistleblower protections and methods to determine budgetary effects.

The Votes
The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, HR 2751, passed in the House on June 9th and passed in the Senate with changes by voice vote on Dec. 19th. The act was cleared for the White House on Dec. 21st, 2010 when the House of Representatives agreed with the Senate’s changes by a vote of 215 Ayes, 144 Nays, and 74 Present/Not Voting. The Dec. 21st vote was 205 Democrats and 10 Republicans voting in favor of the measure. Opposing the food safety act were 8 Democrats and 136 Republicans.