Panel begins food safety deliberations

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By Kasie Hunt CongressDaily

Lawmakers will begin work on an overhaul of the country's food safety system Wednesday as the House Energy and Commerce Committee hears from health officials about a draft version of legislation.

FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg is slated to testify, along with representatives from consumer groups and industry. Lawmakers say they are particularly concerned because of a recent spate of food contamination problems that led to illnesses and deaths, including E.coli in spinach, tainted peppers and salmonella traced to peanuts.

"Redoing the inspections and food safety system is essential. It's got to be a public-private partnership," HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told the House Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee Tuesday. "Whether or not it's a stand-alone agency or in the FDA I think is almost secondary to what the system needs to look at."

The draft, circulated late last month by committee Democrats, is based on the food safety portion of broader legislation that addresses drug and medical device safety. The bill would require food companies to pay a $1,000 annual registration fee to help offset the costs of increased inspections, which would range in frequency from every six months for high-risk products and to every three years for some less risky items.

The draft was introduced by Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Democratic Reps. John Dingell of Michigan; Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Bart Stupak of Michigan; Health Subcommittee Chairman Frank Pallone of New Jersey, and Reps. Diana DeGette of Colorado and Betty Sutton of Ohio.

Food industry interests have criticized the legislation, saying the recession makes the timing inappropriate. Groups argued the registration fees will create a conflict of interest because they will be funding the inspections.


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