US: House calls for closer watch on food supply
Posted: May 28th, 2009 - 6:34pm
The nation's complex food supply chain would become more transparent, inspections of food facilities would become more frequent and manufacturers would be required to take steps aimed at preventing food-borne illnesses under legislation proposed yesterday by key House leaders who have pledged to modernize the food safety system.
The bill, introduced by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) and Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), would give the Food and Drug Administration broad new enforcement tools, including the authority to recall tainted food, the ability to "quarantine" suspect food, and the power to impose civil penalties and increased criminal sanctions on violators.
Among other things, the proposal would put greater responsibility on growers, manufacturers and food handlers by requiring them to identify contamination risks, document the steps they take to prevent them and provide those records to federal regulators. The legislation also would allow the FDA to require private laboratories used by food manufacturers to report the detection of pathogens in food products directly to the government.
"This is a major step forward," said Erik Olson, director of food and consumer product safety at the Pew Charitable Trusts. "This has really been needed for decades. We're still operating under a food and drug law signed by Teddy Roosevelt."
Consumers have grown increasingly alarmed by a rash of food safety problems in recent years, such as E. coli in spinach and salmonella in Mexican jalapeno peppers.
But it was the nationwide salmonella illness outbreak linked to peanut products late last year that gave reform efforts a serious push. The episode exposed weaknesses across all layers of the nation's food safety network and captured the attention of President Obama, who has proposed significant new staffing and funding for the FDA.