December 22, 2010

Congress Passes Food Safety Bill

The House of Representatives has approved a bill that would give the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the power to force food manufacturers to recall products due to health and safety reasons, paving the way for President Obama to sign the revised policy into law.

The Food Safety Modernization Act, which previously had been approved by the Senate, passed in the House by a margin of 215 votes to 144. If signed by the President, the legislation would give the FDA the ability to directly order tainted products to be pulled from store shelves, rather than work with food and drug producers to have voluntary recalls notices.

The bill, which according to CNN.com is "the most sweeping overhaul of the food safety system since 1938," comes in the wake of the numerous recalls issued in 2010, which AFP notes affected a vast array of products, "from tainted eggs to peanut butter, pistachios, spinach and milk."

The Food Safety Modernization Act would also require food manufacturers from developing written safety plans, which will be reviewed by the government when issues arise. Furthermore, it would allow the Department of Health of Human Services (HHS) to set up a food tracking system that could help them "quickly focus on the source of contamination should an outbreak occur," according to CNN.com.

"Over time, the law will require the F.D.A. to increase inspection of food processing plants in this country and also plants in other countries where food is prepared for export to the United States," William Neuman of the New York Times reported on Tuesday, adding that "low-risk" plants must be inspected within the first seven years following the law going into effect, and once every five year period thereafter.

"The law will require 600 inspections of overseas facilities in the first year, although food safety experts said that may not represent an increase over current levels. Over the next five years, the number of foreign inspections must double each year," Neuman added. "The law will also give the FDA the ability to set nationwide standards for growing and harvesting produce, with the goal of reducing the chances of contamination in the fields."

In a statement released following the passage of the bill, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) called it "an early Christmas present" and said that it was "landmark legislation" that "provides FDA with the resources and authorities the agency needs to help strengthen our nation's food safety system by making prevention the focus of our food safety strategies."

"The food and beverage industry is committed to partnering with Congress, the Administration and the FDA to strengthen and modernize our nation's food safety system," the GMA added.


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