Lawmaker Pushes System to Trace Food to Source

Posted on: Tuesday, 26 August 2008, 03:00 CDT

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WASHINGTON - The food industry must drop any remaining opposition to electronic record-keeping and back an effective system for tracing contaminated food to its source, a lawmaker investigating food safety said Friday.

"It is my hope that the food industry will drop its opposition to these commonsense safeguards and move forward with implementation," said Rep. Bart Stupak, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's investigative subcommittee.

Mr. Stupak, D-Mich., has been conducting an investigation since January 2007 into the Food and Drug Administration's ability to protect the nation's food and drug supply. He will lead a hearing next week on the current outbreak of salmonella.

"This latest salmonella outbreak has shown us that it is necessary to have electronic record-keeping and trace-back systems in order to quickly detect the source of food-borne illnesses," Mr. Stupak said.

The food industry is seeing the truth of the adage, "Be careful what you wish for because you might get it."

The industry pressured the Bush administration years ago to limit the paperwork companies would have to keep to help U.S. health investigators quickly trace produce that sicken consumers, according to interviews and government reports reviewed by The Associated Press.

The White House also killed a plan to require the industry to maintain electronic tracking records. Companies complained the proposals were too burdensome and costly, and warned they could disrupt the availability of consumers' favorite foods - especially fresh produce.

More recently, parts of the industry said they would support a more effecting tracing system, but insisted that businesses in the food chain - not the government - should devise the method that works.

The chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., said the industry has brought on its own troubles.

"The food industry is learning the hard way that having a strong FDA and common-sense regulation makes good financial sense," he said.

"FDA's inability to pinpoint the source of the recent salmonella outbreak has resulted in devastating illnesses across the country, caused a financial blow to American growers and producers, and highlighted the need for strong food safety legislation."

The apparent but unintended consequences of the lobbying success: a paper record-keeping system that has slowed investigators, with estimated business losses of $250 million. So far, nearly 1,300 people in 43 states, the District of Columbia and Canada have been sickened by salmonella since April.

Originally published by Associated Press.



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