Obama signs food safety law amid budget questions

01/05/2011 09:38:54 AM
Tom Karst

(UPDATED COVERAGE, Jan. 6) The Food Safety Modernization Act would require $1.4 billion in new funds over five years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

That cost is causing some Republicans, emboldened by gains in November elections and increased public concern over deficit spending, to question whether the investment is worth the cost.

At the same time, produce industry associations are still looking at ways to address their concerns with the bill, signed by Obama on Jan. 4.

“In this new Congress we are going to be looking at ways where we can figure out a fix to what we think is still a flawed part of the bill, namely the Tester amendment,” said Ray Gilmer, vice president of communications at the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association.

Gilmer said United Fresh officials plan to talk to new members and committee leadership about the amendment from Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., that exempts some smaller operations from certain aspects of the food safety law.

“It is a pretty categorical exemption unless they are linked to an outbreak,” he said.

Tom O’Brien, the Washington, D.C., representative for the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association, said the amendment’s applicability to small growers in other countries surfaced during Congressional debate of the bill.

“You have got to treat countries alike, so that is sort of an open question,” he said.

A big change the law brings is increased food safety responsibility for importers, who must have food safety verification systems in place for growers of the imported produce they handle.

Budget scrutiny

Gilmer said United Fresh hasn’t decided if it will lobby for increased funds for the FDA.

“We’re going to figure out what our best strategies are based on the feedback we are getting from lawmakers before we decide on any one particular tactic,” Gilmer said.

Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., the presumptive chairman of FDA and agriculture appropriations subcommittee in the new Congress, has said he believes the law should be trimmed.

“On a procedural level, I think the first cause of concern for us is the way that it was passed,” said Chris Crawford, communications director for Kingston.

The bill was seemingly dead until House Republicans paved the way for its passage with an 11th-hour agreement with Democrats.

“If this was such a well thought out bill, why was it not enacted earlier?’ he asked, adding that often such hastily passed laws have hidden flaws.


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