US: Bill giving FDA new powers to oversee food supply has wide support
Posted: October 22nd, 2009 - 7:44am
Source: Los Angeles Times
Reporting from Washington -- Legislation granting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration new powers to oversee the nation's food supply has elbowed its way onto Congress' crammed calendar with bipartisan support and rare agreement between consumer groups and an industry stung by product recalls.
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), would require the FDA to step up inspections of food facilities and to issue new rules to improve the quality of imported food and to combat contaminants in fresh produce. The measure also would give the agency authority to recall products on its own, instead of relying on industry cooperation.
The reason for a sense of urgency is evident from opinion polls. A July survey for the Pew Charitable Trusts found that nearly 90% of voters favored new food safety measures similar to those found in Durbin's bill and a slightly more expansive proposal that the House passed over the summer.
Growers and distributors lost an estimated $100 million in a 2008 recall of salmonella-tainted jalapeño peppers and tomatoes initially blamed for the outbreak, said Patrick Delaney, a spokesman for the United Fresh Produce Assn., which represents fruit and vegetable producers.
A similar amount was lost in a spinach recall two years earlier, he said.
A recall of peanut products early this year cost Kellogg Co. about $70 million.
One major question is how to pay for the legislation.
The cost of reforms in the House bill is estimated at $3.7 billion over five years, with $1.4 billion of that to come from a $500-per-facility fee on food makers.
Durbin said he doesn't yet have a price tag for his bill.
An indication of the breadth of support for reform is the list of co-sponsors on Durbin's bill. It includes five Republicans, including Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, both from Georgia, a state hard-hit by the peanut recall.