Improving on what is considered to be one of the safest food supplies in the world is another item on the Obama Administration list of priorities. Previously, it was clear what responsibilities would be handled by which federal agency but legislation is on track for a major change.
This week, the House Energy and Commerce Committee rewrote the book on who would have inspection and recall power. And regardless of objections by various farm advocacy groups, a voice vote in committee pushed the Food Safety Enhancement Act a few more yards down field.
The push for more rigorous food safety standards comes after several food scares in recent years. Since 2006, the U.S. food supply has been tarnished by a series of high-profile outbreaks including those tied to lettuce, peppers, spinach, peanuts and peanut butter.
In response, the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday passed legislation that would increase government oversight of the nation's food supply. The Food Safety Enhancement Act would broaden the Food and Drug Administration, or FDA's, regulatory authority by requiring all facilities to have a food safety plan in place. It would give the FDA mandatory recall authority and greater access to company records.
Some farm groups are denouncing the legislation which would give the FDA access to on-farm records and require country-of-origin labeling on the ingredients in most products.
Currently USDA oversees food safety for meat poultry and eggs, and the FDA regulates 80 percent of the U.S. food supply including fruits, vegetables, processed foods and other products. The new legislation would shift food safety oversight of meat products away from USDA to the FDA.
Many livestock groups also have expressed their frustrations. They oppose sections of the bill that give the FDA authority to inspect producers' premises, charge fees, create standard record-keeping systems, enact mandatory recalls and require full pedigree traceability.
In addition, food producers, manufacturers and processors would be required to carry out safety plans, pay an annual registration fee of $500 per facility to the FDA and keep track of the distribution of all food products. Inspections would take place every six to 12 months at high-risk facilities and between 18 months and three years for those considered low risk. Currently, many facilities go several years without being inspected.
Similar food safety legislation has been introduced in the Senate, but a timetable for when the bipartisan measure will be taken up remains to be determined.