Industry largely positive about House food safety bill

06/18/2009 09:58:14 AM
Tom Karst

Though industry associations have not  endorsed the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009, leading produce industry lobbyists said the House Energy and Commerce Committee listened to their concerns and made changes to the legislation before passing it out of committee.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 on a voice vote with no opposition, and the full House of Representatives is expected to pass the bill by the July 4 recess.

“Clearly the Democrats and Republicans worked together this past week to try to create something they both support,” said Tom Stenzel, president of the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association. “A number of the changes we wanted to see were able to get in.”

The committee approved the act on June 17.

Cathy Enright, vice president of government affairs in Western Growers’ Washington, D.C., office, said Western Growers wanted a risk-based and commodity specific approach and that was included in the bill.

The bill enables the Food and Drug Administration to recognize publically available food safety standards, she added. What’s more, she said the legislation calls for coordination of standards between the FDA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and state authorities.

“We’re looking at it as a bill with which we can work.” Enright said.

“(Committee members) have shown a willingness to listen and create a system that works,” said Tom O’Brien, Washington, D.C.-based representative for the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association.

O’Brien said there is more work to do — notably in relation to user fees — but said the process has been remarkably collaborative so far.

Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Science in the Public Interest, said in a statement that the bill will shift FDA efforts to preventive measures rather than reacting to foodborne illness outbreaks.

The bill outlines fees for importers.

“They’ve agreed to cap importer fees at $500, and that is something a number of folks wanted,” Stenzel said.

The bill also has a stronger commodity-specific approach to produce, he said. United Fresh has not yet endorsed the House legislation, but Stenzel it is far better than many expected would come out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

While there is a mandatory traceability system in the House legislation, Stenzel said it does instruct the FDA to work with industry on discovering the most efficient and effective methods, pilot testing traceability systems and feasibility studies.

“We feel good about that, because that means they can come sit with us on (the Produce Traceability Initiative) and as long as it accomplishes what we all believe it will, we have a pretty good system already underway,” he said.

Stenzel said a mandatory traceability approach was favored by committee members.

“What this legislation tells us is that there is going to be mandatory traceability — not just for produce but for all foods,” he said. “Now that everybody realizes it will be mandatory across the industry, we’re not going to have to worry that only 50% of the industry is going to do PTI.”

Stenzel said the bill, H.R. 2479, is likely to receive limited opposition when the full House considers it. Enright said a vote is expected the week of June 22.

Meanwhile, the Senate has yet to take up food safety legislation. Stenzel said the Senate could take up the House bill — referred to as the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 — or start with the framework of the bill offered by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

Specifically, Stenzel said the House bill might continue to be refined but he expects no major changes to the bill before the House passes it.

Enright said Senate leadership wants to consider food safety legislation this year, but there has been no timetable set out yet.

The timetable for the Senate could depend on how quickly health care reform legislation clears committee.



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