Senator Judd Gregg, R-N.H., has introduced a bi-partisan bill co-sponsored by senators Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Tom Hawkin, D-Iowa, Chris Dobb, D-Conn., Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.  In introducing this legislation, Senator Gregg stated, “when Americans go to the grocery store the last thing on their minds should be the safety of the food they are bringing home to serve their families,” he added, “the recent Salmonella outbreak highlights a current vulnerability of our food supply and the need to modernize our food safety laws.”

The proposed FDA Food Safety Modernization Act is designed to address the failings revealed in a series of inquiries following a number of food-related incidence dating back to the BES crisis, E-Coli 0157 contamination of ground beef, outbreaks of Salmonella associated with produce and the most recent outbreak of Salmonella s.p. involving imported jalapeño peppers.  Significant failings involved frequency of inspections of facilities, lack of an affective trace back system and lack of authority to impose a product recall.

The bill will strengthen food-borne illness by introducing the following requirements:

  • Hazard analysis
  • In position of HAACP programs will be required addressing hazards including pesticides, toxins and pathogens in order to identify risks and impose preventive action and control.

Imports 

FDA will require Certification from Exporters that specified foods attained pre-determined standards of safety.  The FDA will qualify importers and provide expedited inspections subject to compliance with advanced standards. 

Third party laboratory inspection

The FDA will establish an accreditation system to allow third party inspection and approval of foreign food facilities.  In addition the FDA will accredit all laboratories charged with insuring food safety.  This provision has generated some adverse comment from consumer advocacy groups that maintain the function of policing food safety is the sole responsibility of FDA as a federal agency.

Surveillance “surveillance system” will be introduced to collect and analyze data relating to food-borne illness

Trace ability a pilot project must be established to evaluate methods of tracing back to source foods and produce implicated in food-borne disease outbreaks.

Mandatory recall

The FDA will be given the authority to order mandatory recalls of food products implicated in disease outbreaks.

Suspension of registration

The FDA will be empowered to close facilities and plants if there is a reasonable probability or risk that food could result in an adverse public health event.

The impotence of the bill is to create a more proactive FDA and provide adequate funding to carry out the expanded functions.

The bill has been favorably received by the Center for Science and the Public Interest but the organization has indicated that stricter penalties for illegal acts.  The Center for Science and the Public Interest has advocated for a separate food safety agency combining the functions of the FDA, the USDA and other government departments in order to break down artificial jurisdictional barriers and communications which inhibit the development of a seamless food safety system.  The Grocery Manufacturers Association also supports the modernization act especially provisions that focus on prevention.  The association president, Cal Dooley stated, “there remain some areas of concern within the proposed legislation, however, it represents a reasonable and common sense approach for improving food safety in bolstering consumer confidence in the brands they buy and the foods they eat”.  A Grocery Manufacturers Association is the industry body representing the $2.1 trillion food beverage and consumer packaged goods industry employing 14 million workers. 

The Consumers Federation of America has also praised the legislation although recognizing limitations associated with allowing domestic and foreign good-party certification and approval.  The Consumer Federation of America has longed criticized FDA for lack of hand-on review of processing plants and the fact that less than one percent of imported food is subjected to inspection of port of entry.  The Consumers Federation of America suggests that all food plants should be inspected by a federal official annually and that privately funded reviews are inadequate.

The food safety modernization act will not materially affect existing egg packing plants which function under the USDA-Agricultural marketing service.  Poultry and red meat pants are required to comply with the requirements of the USDA-Food Safety and Inspection Service.  The disparity between the AMS and the FSS with respect to physical facilities, implementation of standard symmetry operating procedures, HACCP programs, training of personnel and inspection are evident.  The FSIS places a strong emphasis on food safety and quality.  The AMS is more concerned with grading of eggs for size and internal quality.  The FDA is only responsible for aspects of egg processing after delivery to a distribution center or point of sale.  The FDA is however planning to become more involved in un-farm safety through a Salmonella Enteritidis monitoring program.

It is evident that legislatures are becoming concerned over food safety following a series of public health incidence which have created confusion, doubt and anxiety among consumers.  The relatively unconvincing response of FDA officials at senate and congressional inquiries and the involvement of consumer activist groups has created an environment in Washington which is receptive to new stricter legislation.

There is a considerable difference in the design and maintenance of facilities and equipment used to grade and pack eggs and the manage mental standards relating to hygiene safety among the many plants in the USA.  The egg industry __ state and national organizations should preempt action by the FDA and develop appropriate standards for facilities and operation of egg packing plants, consistent with the requirements imposed by FSIS on poultry and red meat facilities.  Agreeing on an acceptable series of standard and operating procedures and establishing a time table for implementation will result in upgrading imperfect facilities which exist and will create a non-confrontational relationship with FDA which will be hard pressed to comply with legislative mandates.