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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Opening Statement of U.S. Senator Michael B. Enzi, Ranking Member Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions

“Keeping America’s Families Safe: Reforming the Food Safety System”

Good morning. Food safety is not a partisan issue – we all want the safest food supply possible. The United States has one of the best food safety systems in the world. But even in the best of systems, there is always room for improvement.

The volume of food imports and the number of foreign producers and manufacturers are growing. At the same time, the supply chain is becoming more complex, due to innovations such as repackaging of fresh produce that mixes output from dozens of farms, or the potentially hundreds of ingredients in a ready-to-eat processed food.

FDA is the gold standard worldwide among public health agencies. After many years of inadequate resources, Congress has provided significant funding increases to FDA for food safety and related activities such as information technology. While it is important to sustain these increases, FDA also needs a modernization of its authorities.

The powers the agency was given 100 years ago were appropriate for a world in which most of our food was grown and processed domestically. That is no longer the case, and FDA’s tools need to keep pace with the challenges.

These outdated authorities coupled with a lack of resources have been made clear by recent outbreaks. For example, in the Peanut Corporation of America case last year, FDA did not know the facility was even making peanut butter, since the facility was initially registered as just roasting peanuts. There is currently no statutory requirement to update registration status when information changes. Last summer, during the Salmonella in tomato/peppers outbreak, FDA was not able to put enough “boots on the ground” to trace shipments back to the source of the contamination quickly.

Clearly, the complex nature of our food safety system requires all of the global partners – regulators, importers, manufacturers, academia – and other stakeholders to come together to propose meaningful, collaborative solutions.

I believe some of those solutions are contained in S. 510, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, which a number of members of this committee have cosponsored. I have a few concerns about the bill, particularly the provisions regarding FDA’s relationship with farms as well as with state officials. While this bill is a good start, it is important that we go through regular order and do the hard work of making the bill even better. There is a lot of expertise on the HELP Committee about these issues, and we should bring that to bear on the legislation.