A number of powerful lobbying groups, including business and grocery interests, are lining up behind legislation that would give the FDA more power to regulate the food industry, including the ability to quickly force recalls.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Snack Food Association, the Food Marketing Institute and the Center for Science in the Public Interest are all now voicing support for the “Food Safety Modernization Act”, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said that it is unlikely that the bill will happen before midterm elections.
Although the bill has enjoyed bipartisan support, there are some Republicans who believe the bill will be too much of a burden on growers and food producers, and fear that the FDA will become “trigger happy” with its newfound recall power. The bill is currently stalled due to an objection by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK). Reid has said that the Senate would be unlikely to overcome the objections by Coburn before the midterm election break.
The bill has been passed by the House for a year now, and has been floated in congress for several years without success.
There are approximately 76 million foodborne illnesses each year in the United States, according to a report released in June, “Enhancing Food Safety: The Role of the Food and Drug Administration,” which was requested by Congress. Those illnesses cause more than 300,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths annually.
For the FDA to properly regulate an estimated 80% of the nation’s food supply, the agency’s food safety departments need to be restructured to fit a risk-based approach that coordinates data and expertise to quickly find the weak links in the food production and distribution chains where contamination and other problems are most likely to occur, analysts said in the report. Then the agency would be able to quickly and efficiently target the problem areas with the necessary resources and increase its chances of catching dangerous, and sometimes deadly, food outbreaks before they occur.
But, such a task is not easy, and may not be possible in the FDA’s current form, the report warns. The FDA is responsible for monitoring compliance of 150,000 food production facilities, more than 1 million restaurants, more than 2 million farms and millions of tons of foreign imports. Currently, it does not have the resources to do that job properly, analysts determined.
Many of the business organizations that now support the Food Safety Modernization Act were once against it, but the recent string of massive recalls in recent years, particularly a 2006 spinach recall due to e. coli contamination, changed their position on the bill. Lobbyists say that safer and more regulated food production would help protect grocers and others who sell food to the public and have to rely on the quality measures used by the growers, over whom they have no control.
Grocery stores and vendors who sell the food, often under their own label, can catch consumer backlash in the form of lower sales and food poisoning lawsuits when there is a food recall, despite having not been part of the growing or production process.