Farm Bureau questions parts of food safety bill

Source of Article:  http://eastoregonian.com/main.asp?SectionID=14&SubSectionID=50&ArticleID=95024

The U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee has passed out on a bill that could make far-reaching changes to food safety laws. It could increase food-processing facility inspections, require extensive farm record keeping and add fees.

While enhancing public confidence in food safety is a top priority for producers, they have raised some red flags about the all-encompassing legislation. President Bob Stallman of the American Farm Bureau Federation questions parts of a draft of the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 (HR 2749). His main gripe is language about country-of-origin labeling requirements. Stallman said the proposed rules go far beyond what is required of food producers and processors.

The industry still is implementing the labeling rule enacted in the 2008 Farm Bill. Stallman said further expansion should be delayed until industry officials can determine the program's effectiveness. He also said the extensive recordkeeping, reporting and traceability that would be mandatory if the bill becomes law would not be possible for many producers.

Stallman said producers, while required to allow the U.S. Food and Drug Administration unprecedented routine access to their business records, are not guaranteed confidentiality. They should be.

The resolution, which the committee sent to the House floor June 17, would establish a registry of all food facilities whose products go to U.S. consumers. The food-processing plants, such as those in Pendleton, Hermiston and Boardman, and importers on the registry would pay an annual fee, which Stallman said would amount to a double fee on imported products.

Producers should be concerned about potential language that would restrict antibiotic use and FDA authority to further regulate meat packaging.

The Farm Bureau isn't totally against the bill. The organization is encouraged the committee recognizes the need for more FDA resources, both internally and through cooperative relationships. It also supports the additional research the legislation requires to develop methods for detecting contaminants and their sources, to identify common and emerging diseases, and to develop methods for destroying pathogens.

Stallman said those developments have been necessary for years and are critical to any food safety initiatives.

We trust the Farm Bureau and other lobbying organization for producers and processors will drive home their desires to the committee before it sends the bill to the House floor. If all of the proposals become law, they likely would increase the burden on those who grow and process our food. And you can bet those businesses will pass on the increased costs to consumers.

Congress ultimately must consider if the added hassle is worth the cost.

Unsigned editorials are the opinion of the East Oregonian editorial board, comprised of Associate Publisher Kathryn Brown, General Manager Wendy DalPez, Managing Editor Skip Nichols, News Editor Daniel Wattenburger and Senior Reporter Dean Brickey. Other columns, letters and cartoons on this page express the opinions of the authors and not necessarily that of the East Oregonian.


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