Supply Scan

U.S. Senate Approves Food Safety Modernization Act


Landmark legislation gives FDA more power to police food companies.

Amid a lot of controversy, the Food Safety Modernization Act (S.510) was passed earlier this month by the U.S. Senate. It now goes to the House of Representatives for its approval.

The first major food safety legislation in more than 70 years, it provides the Food and Drug Administration with additional resources and authority to issue mandatory recalls that help strengthen the nation’s food safety system by focusing on prevention.

Key points of the legislation include:

• The FDA would have the authority to issue direct recalls of foods that are suspected to be tainted, rather than relying on individual producers to voluntarily issue recalls;
• Increasing the number of food-processing plant inspections;
• Food producers would be required to develop written food safety plans, accessible by the government in case of emergency. These would include hazard analysis and a plan for implementing corrective measures;
• The Secretary of Health and Human Services would be required to create a food tracing system that would streamline the process of finding the source of contamination, should an outbreak occur;
• Importers would be required to verify the safety of all imported foods to make sure it’s in accordance with U.S. food safety guidelines.

The House, which passed a food-safety bill last year, has agreed to adopt the Senate version. Once both chambers have approved the measure, it will be sent to President Barack Obama for his signature.

“With the Senate’s passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act, we are one step closer to having critically important new tools to protect our nation’s food supply and keep consumers safe,” said President Obama, who made improving the safety of the nation’s food supply an early priority of his administration. He urged the House to act quickly.

Mixed Reactions

Both the Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA) and Food Marketing Institute (FMI) commended the Senate for passing the act by a 73-25 vote.

“We applaud the Senate the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act—this landmark legislation provides FDA with the resources and authorities the agency needs to help strengthen our nation’s food safety system by making prevention the focus of our food safety strategies,” said Pamela G. Bailey, president and CEO of GMA.

“The passage of the act represents more than two years of thoughtful, bipartisan efforts that included industry, consumer groups and all other stakeholders working toward a shared goal of improving our nation’s food safety system,” said Leslie G. Sarasin, president and CEO of FMI.

“With the Senate vote, we have taken another important step toward modernizing America’s food safety network and focusing on preventing problems before they occur, rather than just reacting to them. Now it is imperative that the House and Senate immediately reconcile the differences between their two proposals and find a path for a food safety bill to be enacted into law by the end of the year.”

However, not all trade associations were happy with the outcome. Robert Guenther, SVP of public policy United Fresh Produce Association (UFPA), said: “We are disappointed that the Senate continues to ignore the egregious loopholes allowed in this legislation that will erode consumer confidence in our nation’s food safety system. Now, when going to a supermarket, restaurant, farmers market or roadside stand, consumers will be faced with the question of whether the fruits and vegetables offered for sale adhere to basic food safety standards or not.

“Unfortunately,” Guenther continued, “instead of adhering to a science- and risk-based approach that was consistently the foundation of the underlying bill, the Senate has chosen to include a provision that will exempt certain segments of the food industry based on the size of operation, geographic location and customer base, and creates “a gaping hole in the ability of consumers to trust the safety of all foods in the commercial marketplace.”

Bryan Silbermann, president and CEO of the Produce Marketing Association (PMA), said while his organization supported the original Senate bill and has long backed efforts to modernize food safety laws to protect public health and enhance consumer confidence, “unfortunately, recent language added to that bill did not align with PMA’s fundamental position of risk- and science-based food safety efforts, resulting in our recent opposition.

“We stand firm that the entire produce industry must be committed to providing safe fruits and vegetables, no exceptions, because pathogens don’t discriminate based on company size, commodity or distance to market.”

Other critics of the legislation include some small-farm advocates and organic food producers who say that they’ll be buried under the paperwork requirements. Also at issue is the fact that the legislation doesn’t consolidate overlapping—and duplicative—duties of the more than 10 federal agencies responsible for food safety.