Food Safety Act Passes; Organic Issues Unresolved

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Two new food recalls—ground beef and fresh cilantro—remind us that the safety of the U.S. food supply remains a pressing issue.

On July 30, the House of Representatives passed HR 2749 (also known as the Food Safety Enhancement Act) by a vote of 283 to 142. It gives the FDA increased authority and resources to prevent foodborne illnesses by:

  • Requiring food facilities to have safety plans in place to identify and mitigate hazards
  • Increasing the frequency of FDA inspections of food facilities
  • Providing enforcement tools like mandatory recalls, stronger penalties and subpoena authority
  • Expanding the FDA’s traceback capabilities in the event a food-related outbreak occurs

The bill, however, is not without controversy.

Singing its praises is its author, Rep. John D. Dingell (D-MI): “Over the past two years we have seen issues of melamine in infant formula; tainted peppers from Mexico; harmful seafood from China; and E. coli in spinach. Each year, 76 million people contract a foodborne illness in the United States. According to CDC, about 5,000 die. The Food and Drug Administration—the agency responsible for regulating about 80% of the food supply—has been expected to adequately protect American consumers with outdated authorities and woefully inadequate funding. HR 2749 has the support of consumer groups, food safety groups and industry groups. It is a monumental piece of bipartisan legislation that will grant FDA the authorities and resources needed to effectively oversee an increasingly global food marketplace.”

But the Organic Consumers Association has concerns about how the bill will affect small farms and local producers, as well as consumers’ ability to access their products. As the OCA’s Alexis Baden-Mayer notes:

While the language instructing FDA to coordinate with USDA, secured by the House Agriculture Committee in its negotiation with Energy and Commerce, is a very positive step in the right direction, specific language that requires the FDA to coordinate with the National Organic Program on the development and enforcement of standards with respect to organic farming should be included.

Click here to read Baden-Mayer’s full analysis.

The bill now heads to the Senate.

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