The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill last week, which is endorsed by President Barack Obama, that could greatly increase the power of the FDA over the food industry if it is passed into law.
The bill represents the most expansive change in federal power over what we eat since the FDA was created 70 years ago, experts say. It would vastly increase food inspections, and allow the FDA to quickly issue food recalls, as opposed to waiting for businesses to do so voluntarily.
Most of the impetus would be placed on producers, who would have to meet new stringent monitoring and safety standards designed to detect and prevent outbreaks of food-borne illnesses, such as salmonella, E. coli and other bacteria.
The bill passed the House by a 283-142 vote, and must also be approved by the Senate, which will likely vote on the bill after the August recess. The food industry supports the bill and President Obama has promised to sign the legislation, calling it “a major step forward in modernizing our food safety system.”
The bill will require food companies to create detailed safety plans, and would levy a $500 annual fee on all major food producers and importers to fund increased inspections by the FDA. Producers’ plans would identify likely risks, create plans to control those risks, and monitor their products to make sure their plans are effective.
The FDA would step up inspections of food facilities from about once every ten years to once every three years, with annual inspections required for facilities considered high-risk. The FDA would set safety standards for farmers and manufacturers. The agency would have increased power to issue food recalls, would be able to quarantine food shipments in geographic areas to prevent the spread of contaminated products, and would have increased access to farm and manufacturers’ records.
The push for a revision to food safety laws came in the wake of several major food poisoning outbreaks in recent years, involving contaminated spinach, peanut butter, beef, and cookie dough, which have caused numerous illnesses and deaths. The failure of regulators or manufacturers to identify the potential health risks before products were shipped to consumers has rattled Americans’ faith in the safety of the food industry.
The bill still faces opposition from Republicans and the farm lobby, who claim that the bill is too burdensome on farmers and would show little improvement in food safety. Additionally, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that, even after the new fees levied against food producers and importers, FDA’s new responsibilities would have a net additional cost of $2.2 billion over five years.