House moves to improve food safety

Bloomberg News / June 18, 2009
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NEW YORK - A House panel approved legislation aimed at safeguarding the nation’s food supply by giving federal regulators new powers to enforce tougher government safety standards.

The bill passed yesterday by the Energy and Commerce Committee would give the Food and Drug Administration the power to force recalls of tainted foods, require food facilities to be inspected as often as once a year, and give the FDA expanded authority to impose civil penalties on scofflaw companies.

The legislation, approved on a voice vote, would also require companies to keep better records of their activities to make it easier for federal authorities to trace the origins of outbreaks of food-borne illnesses. Food importers would have to register with the government.

The FDA’s expanded responsibilities would be financed in part by a new $500 annual fee on food producers. Those fees would be capped at $175,000 annually for companies owning multiple facilities.

The bill won bipartisan support from lawmakers who said the changes are necessary to fill holes in food-safety policies.

“A series of food-borne disease outbreaks - in spinach, peanuts, and peppers to name a few - has not only sickened and killed American consumers but has shaken public confidence in the industry that produces one of our most basic and important commodities,’’ said Representative Henry A. Waxman, the committee chairman and a California Democrat.

“And it has laid bare unacceptable gaps in our food safety laws.’’

The bill will now head to the House floor for a vote. The Senate has not taken up companion legislation.

The House bill does not apply to meat, poultry, eggs, or other products regulated by the Department of Agriculture.