By Agri-Pulse Staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

Washington, Dec. 8 – Rushing to end their lame-duck session by Dec. 18, the House included the procedurally delayed Food Safety Enhancement Act Wednesday as part of the $1.1 trillion Continuing Resolution (CR) aimed at funding the federal government through Sept. 30. Passed 212-206 on a largely party-line vote, the CR bill if passed by the Senate would freeze 2011 discretionary appropriations at the current level, cutting the administration request by $45.9 billion.

Commenting on the bill's food safety provisions, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) said that:

“Today, the House again passed legislation to give the Food and Drug Administration new authorities to protect our food supply and ensure that all Americans can have confidence that the food they provide their families is free of contamination. Action today, while critically important, is also long overdue. The House overwhelmingly supported similar legislation in July 2009, and since then, we have continued to hear about food safety scares and their dramatic impact on our way of life. Unsafe food does not only put the health and lives of Americans at risk; it undermines confidence and poses a real threat to Americans’ faith in our food supply. This lack of trust is harmful to both consumers’ peace of mind and our economic future.”

Hoyer explained that the bill would give the FDA recall power and more authority to inspect food industry records, increase inspections of high risk facilities, protect whistleblowers, and speed FDA response to food emergencies. He said that “With the creation of a more accurate registry of food facilities serving American consumers, improved traceability of contaminated food, and stronger authority to quarantine and recall dangerous products, the FDA will be empowered to take quick action to address outbreaks and save lives."

However, several GOP members, including the soon-to-be Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Frank Lucas, complained the process. In a letter to fellow House members, Lucas and Rep. Joe Barton said that legislation should be based on “transparency, openness and regard for regular order” rather than rushed into law. For more:
United Fresh Senior Vice President Robert Guenther commented that:

“United Fresh has strongly supported modernization of our food safety laws for the past four years, working with Members of Congress and the Administration, and testifying before House or Senate committees more than 10 times. There is no doubt the food safety bill passed as part of the Continuing Resolution contains a number of important provisions that we have long supported, including implementation of preventive controls for production and processing of specific fruits and vegetables when shown necessary by a risk-based, scientific analysis by FDA.

“Yet, the Tester amendment inserted into the Senate bill, and now passed by the House, weakens public health protection by exempting some producers and processors based only on the size of their business, their geographic location, or to whom they sell their products. The statutory enactment of non science-based exemptions would limit FDA’s ability to assure consumers that all foods they purchase, whether at grocery stores, restaurants, farm markets, or elsewhere, have met the same food safety standards. We fear that this profound error will come back to haunt the Congress, public health agencies, consumers and even those who thought they would benefit from food safety exemptions. Food safety must be a universal commitment, shared by all who would grow, process and sell foods.

“While the food safety bill will do much good, it is highly regrettable that the House leadership failed to exercise its responsibility to engage with the Senate in a conference to fix these provisions. Our industry and a large number of House members have urged repeatedly over the past week that a conference could be completed within the remaining days of this session. When it became apparent that the House would need to pass its own bill due to the constitutional problems with the Senate bill, this afforded the direct opportunity to provide due diligence to correct this mistake, and send a better bill back to the Senate, which must again pass the bill in any case.

“For all of us who have worked long and hard to pass food safety reform, this is a bittersweet moment, with a job only partially done. As we look ahead, we will continue to voice our strong support for uniform, risk-based food safety standards, whether in the remaining days of this Congress, or in the new Congress convening in January.”

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