Food safety legislation
could be up for debate in Congress as early as this summer, according to
produce industry lobbyists and other Capitol Hill sources.
“What I think we are
seeing is that Congress is getting ready to load the food safety bill, and
at some point, they are going to fire that gun,” said Robert Guenther,
senior vice president of public policy for the United Fresh Produce
Association, Washington, D.C., on April 20.
Lobbyists said the two
food safety bills getting the most attention are the Food and Drug
Administration Globalization Act from Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., and The
FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, co-sponsored by Sen. Richard Durbin,
D-Ill. A similar bill, HR 875, is from Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.
Though climate change
apparently will take priority in Congress before Memorial Day (May 25),
Guenther said food safety legislation will be spurred on by challenges
highlighted in recent months.
From the peanut
butter-linked salmonella outbreak to a traceability study from the U.S.
Inspector General to the recent pistachio-linked salmonella outbreak,
Guenther said headlines make a case for food safety reform.
“I think the major
legislative proposals are on the table,” he said.
The bipartisan Durbin
bill in the Senate will be the foundation for anything done in the Senate,
he said, but the House has three proposals driving debate: the Dingell
bill, the DeLauro bill and the Safe Food Enforcement, Assessment, Standards
and Targeting Act, from Reps. Jim Costa, D-Calif., and Adam Putnam, R-Fla.
“They have enough
evidence, enough need out there, to pass a food safety bill,” Guenther
“We’re still hearing that
it is a priority,” said Kathy Means, vice president of government relations
and public affairs for the Produce Marketing Association, Newark, Del.
Guenther said the
challenge for lawmakers is that climate change and energy policy will grab
the spotlight before Memorial Day. After that, Guenther said the health
care debate may heat up.
Means said some members
of Congress would like to address food safety by the end of May, if
Guenther said it’s unknown
when food safety bills will be seriously considered.
“I believe in the
House that they are in the processes of getting their ducks in a row and
having a food safety bill moved through at least the committee and maybe to
the House floor by this fall,” he said.”
Guenther said the food
safety legislation likely will include references to traceability,
mandatory recall authority and preventive control standards for food
facilities and provisions that will allow FDA to set standards for fresh
produce. Guenther said he believes industry lobbyists are “on the same
“My sense is that they
are going to give the FDA authority to do a lot of this stuff and do it
through regulation,” Guenther said. “They are not going to be overly
For example, Guenther
said the legislation might say standards should be set for commodities that
are high risk in produce.
Another question is who
will be responsible for increased inspections, whether that means third
party inspectors, states, the U.S. Department of Agriculture or FDA staff.
Details of how
inspections will be done have to be worked out in law or in regulations,
“Paying for it is a big
issue right now,” he said.
Means said food safety
legislation will likely address traceability, but she said Congress will
“As with anything, you
want to see detail in regulation, not legislation,” Means said.
PMA believes that the FDA
could play a role in certifying third party food safety inspectors, Means
“We can expect to hear
folks talking about the need for speedier traceback, but hopefully not
getting into too many specifics in the legislation itself,” she said.
Guenther said leaders of
the House Agriculture Committee, led by Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn.,
might want to play a more active role in food safety.
“What Chairman Peterson
says repeatedly is the USDA is a better model for food safety,” he said.
However, he said the
House Energy and Commerce has jurisdiction over food safety now and they will
be very reluctant to give up that oversight role.