PDF _ IB98009 - Food Safety Issues in the 107th Congress
7-Nov-2001; Donna Vogt; 19 p.

Update: Since September 11 th , growing concerns in Congress about the vulnerability of the U.S. food supply to terrorism have challenged the Administration to reexamine and in some instances reenforce the current regulatory system. Several bills introduced in the last month would expand FDA?s and USDA?s authorities to detain and monitor food. Most of these proposals build on the current structure for ensuring the safety of the food supply by expanding resources and authorities available to the agencies. Some bills call for the federal registration of food processing and handling facilities (H.R. 3184, S. 1551), and for each food facility to keep records to allow for the recall of unsafe food (H.R. 3075, H.R. 3127, H.R. 3184, S. 1551). Others would set up a more thorough system for monitoring the safety of imports with more inspectors, sampling and testing, and country-of-origin labeling (H.R. 1605, H.R. 3075, H.R. 3184, S. 1551, S. 1563). One bill proposes user fees to pay for this activity (H.R. 3075). Two other bills would reorganize the whole federal system for food safety to create a single food safety system (H.R. 1671, S. 1501). Other bills would strengthen the agencies? enforcement powers by allowing agencies to levy civil monetary penalties when infractions are found, and would fund greater research efforts for the development of diagnostic tests (H.R. 3075, H.R. 3174, H.R. 3184, S. 1551, S. 1563). The Administration has proposed a more modest set of changes and wants Congress to consider giving the Secretary of Health and Human Services authority to detain violative food if found through inspections at the border or domestically. It would like the authority to debar ?bad actor? importers who repeatedly violate U.S. laws, require food manufacturers to keep records that FDA officials can then inspect and copy, and have importers notify FDA prior to importing a food. While these proposals would extend the current system, the Administration testified October 10, 2001, that it has confidence that it could respond to intentional terrorist threats because, in the last 4 years, it has strengthened the federal food safety system and has now in place systems to identify and respond quickly to foodborne illness outbreaks. In addition, the different federal agencies have worked together to put risk-based prevention programs into place for seafood, meat, poultry, and fruit and vegetable juices. For these reasons, some in the Administration claim that extensive new authorities are not needed to ensure a safe food supply.

Abstract: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that each year in the United States 76 million people get sick, 325,000 are hospitalized, and 5,000 die from food-related illnesses. Food-borne illness is a serious public health problem. Often, people do not seek medical help and their illness is not officially reported. Yet consumers have become aware of the serious consequences of illnesses linked to a growing variety of foods, produced domestically or imported. Consumers want the government to regulate the food supply, and industry is interested in producing foods that are safe at a reasonable price. As a result there is congressional interest in oversight and legislation in this area.

Several federal agencies, along with cooperating agencies in the states, are responsible for assuring the safety, wholesomeness, and proper labeling of all foods for human consumption in the United States. The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) gives the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) authority to set and enforce standards for safety of all domestic and imported foods, except for meat and poultry. FDA also ensures that all animal drugs and feeds are safe, are labeled properly, and produce no human health hazard when used in food-producing animals. Also under FFDCA, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets legal limits (tolerances) on amounts of pesticide residues that can be found in or on food. The Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Poultry Products Inspection Act authorize the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to set and enforce standards for the safety of red meats and poultry.

The food safety activities of these agencies consist of inspecting, testing, researching, and monitoring the food supply. In response to limited federal funding, FDA and USDA adopted an approach to food safety and inspection known as the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system. It identifies where hazards could enter food during its preparation for market and steps that can be taken to prevent hazards.

Given concerns about the safety of the food supply after the September 11 th tragedy, the 107th Congress is debating a number of proposals to protect the food supply against intentional adulteration. A few bills would extend to FDA new authorities to register, recall, and monitor imports. Others want to fund more research at USDA and the National Institutes of Health. Two bills are proposing to consolidate into a single agency all food safety inspection and labeling activities, now held by several agencies.

The 107th Congress had begun considering safe food proposals prior to the tragedy earlier this year. Congress had passed a law (P.L. 107-9) which requires reports on inter-agency activities to assess, prevent, and control ?mad cow disease? and foot and mouth disease. These diseases appear on lists of potential threats to the food supply. Other proposals would require mandatory labeling of country-or-origin of foods, and two would increase the number of inspections at the border. In appropriations? bills, both House and Senate have supported funding for an emerging public health problem: antimicrobial resistance, a growing concern as more people are taking antibiotics prophylacticly against the treat of anthrax infection. [read report]

Topics: Agriculture, Risk & Reform

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