Food Engineering

Food safety bill's future in question

September 9, 2009

Will the bill pass Senate muster?

Originally intended to improve food safety in the US, the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009, as approved by the House of Representatives before summer recess, may result in spending more dollars for less consumer protection, says Rod Leonard, IATP (Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy) board member. Leonard is also the executive director of the Community Nutrition Institute and a former food safety official in the USDA, where in the 1960s, he merged food agencies in the USDA and created food standards to improve food safety.

According to Leonard, the legislation has two strikes against it. First, the proposal took shape in a series of compromises among a tightly knit group of consumer and non-government organizations. They wanted to see the creation of a single group, a merger of FDA and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the USDA to safeguard America’s food supply. Second, Leonard says the legislation will have little future in Congress without the White House taking a strong leadership role in advancing the bill.

The new bill could leave the public more vulnerable to food-borne disease, says Leonard. For example, FDA will be mandated to operate a risk-based food safety system. It would put food into five risk categories, ranking food makers and producers from the least to most risky. According to Leonard, with limited resources, FDA would concentrate on those producers producing the most high-risk foods. Where this concept falls apart, says Leonard, is the increasing number of incidents of horticultural products (traditionally low-risk) contaminated with pathogens of animal origin (traditionally high-risk).

The House bill on FDA reforms goes to the US Senate, where the outlook is dim, according to Leonard. “Any Senate action in 2009 must wait until health reform and climate legislation is adopted,” says Lenoard.

To read the entire document, Food safety in the legislative grinder, visit IATP.