New Florez bill may let state order food recalls

Source of Article: http://thecalifornian.com/article/20090422/NEWS01/904220308/1002

 

BY JAKE HENSHAW The Salinas Californian Capitol Bureau April 22, 2009

          

SACRAMENTO - For the first time, California health officials could order a recall of contaminated food under the terms of a bill that passed its first legislative review Monday.

The recall authority is part of Senate Bill 173, which also would give growers and food processors incentives to adopt a food safety plan and test their products routinely.

Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, the bill's author, also introduced SB 416 to end the regular use of antibiotics in animals sold for human consumption.

"We shouldn't be putting antibiotics in food and water when animals aren't sick," Florez said.

Both bills passed the Senate Food and Agriculture Committee, which he chairs. SB 416 next goes to the Senate Education Committee and SB 173 goes to the Senate Rules Committee.

Both measures prompted questions and criticism from agricultural groups and one committee member.

By 2012, SB 416 would prohibit schools from serving food treated with drugs not needed to deal with an illness. Three years later, such drug use would be banned in all food for human consumption.

Sen. Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria, questioned whether animals should be routinely medicated before they reached a feedlot, but once there, he said, they are more likely to encounter diseases.

"Once an animal hits a feedlot, they should take

some medication to keep them from getting ill," Maldonado said. He suggested that drug treatments might be stopped some time period before animals are slaughtered.

A veterinarian and farm representatives said that animal medications are part of a federally devised system and are necessary to ensure the safety of food products.

"By having healthy animals, we have a healthy food supply," said Michael Boccadaro, a lobbyist for poultry firms. Since the 2006 E. coli outbreak in spinach, which killed three people and sickened 200 nationwide, Florez has tried unsuccessfully to expand the authority of state public health officials to oversee food safety.

Instead, the leafy green industry developed a voluntary food safety program that is mandatory for participants and overseen by the state Department of Food and Agriculture.

 

Right now, state health officials can embargo contaminated produce, which blocks further distribution of products.

In addition to giving the Department of Public Health the power to order recalls, Florez's SB 173 also would require growers or food processors notified of positive tests for food-borne illness in their product to inform DPH within an hour.

Growers or processors found liable for food-borne illness outbreaks would face triple-damage payments to victims, on-site inspections by state health officials at least eight times a month for at least a year at the grower's expense and a suspended operation for up to six months.

But growers and processors with a food safety plan and a routine testing system would be exempt from the triple damage payments, inspections and suspension.

"We're going to try to put a huge penalty in there," Florez said, for agricultural operators who don't plan and test for food safety.

Agricultural lobbyists demurred from taking a position on SB 173 because the version of the bill considered Tuesday had only been amended the day before and they didn't have time to review it.

Right now, state health officials can embargo contaminated produce, which blocks further distribution of products.

In addition to giving the Department of Public Health the power to order recalls, Florez's SB 173 also would require growers or food processors notified of positive tests for food-borne illness in their product to inform DPH within an hour.

Growers or processors found liable for food-borne illness outbreaks would face triple-damage payments to victims, on-site inspections by state health officials at least eight times a month for at least a year at the grower's expense and a suspended operation for up to six months.

But growers and processors with a food safety plan and a routine testing system would be exempt from the triple damage payments, inspections and suspension.

"We're going to try to put a huge penalty in there," Florez said, for agricultural operators who don't plan and test for food safety.

Agricultural lobbyists demurred from taking a position on SB 173 because the version of the bill considered Tuesday had only been amended the day before and they didn't have time to review it.

 

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