February 03, 2009

Bulloch proposes crackdown on food testing

Source of Article:  http://www.northwestgeorgia.com/statenews/local_story_034142614.html

Submitted by the Senate Press Office

ATLANTA — State Sen. John Bulloch (R-Ochlocknee) is launching a bill to impose stricter guidelines on food testing for processing plants in response to the nationwide salmonella outbreak that was linked to a south Georgia peanut butter plant in Blakely. Senate Bill 80, the Food Safety Testing, Reporting & Record Keeping bill, dropped this week.

“When people’s lives are at stake, food safety inspections should not be subject to lax regulations,” said Bulloch. “Consumers must be assured their food is safe and we must protect the integrity of Georgia’s producers. Much of our economy depends on the state’s agriculture industry, which cannot afford to suffer the negative impacts of food recalls.”

Bulloch’s legislation would require that food processing facilities report suspicions of contaminated food, food testing and retention of testing results to the Department of Agriculture. This legislation would provide the department free access to any food processor’s testing records for the presence of contaminants. The commissioner of Agriculture is also directed to establish requirements for regular food testing on a yearly or more frequent basis.

The measure strengthens requirements for reporting contaminated products or the suspicions of contaminated products, requiring that a food processor report testing results by the next business day to the department. This will ensure that any testing or suspicions are reported directly to the state. The bill gives the commissioner the right to test any food if there are reasonable grounds to suspect contamination. Financial responsibility for the cost of testing lies solely with the food establishment, not the department.

Despite misleading media reports, the peanuts in the contaminated peanut butter were not the cause of the outbreak. While Georgia peanuts remain a safe product, the state’s agriculture industry has already experienced a negative impact. The federal government has launched a criminal investigation to determine if the plant knew about the contamination prior to releasing the product to the marketplace. Hearings begin this week in Washington, DC.

Georgia is the number one peanut producer in the nation. In 2008, peanut production in Georgia was 2.3 billion pounds, compared to the previous year's 1.6 billion pounds, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agriculture Statistics Service. Georgia produces 45 percent of the United States’ peanuts. Georgia has 14,160 farms with peanuts and more than 4,800 active farms. Georgia has approximately 250 peanut-related businesses. The peanut industry contributes more than 50,000 jobs in Georgia.

For more information on SB 80, go to www.legis.ga.gov



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