Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009

There has been much in the way of worry by farmers, especially the small, sustainable, organic, locavores about the new food safety legislation.  I have read the latest version of the draft H.R. 759 and here are some thoughts on its impact on small farmer/producer/manufacturers, as well as some other thoughts.

$1000 fee for all “food facilities.”

This specifically exempts farms, but we get back to the problems of who a food “manufacturer” is that we deal with in our cases.  For example, is a seller at a farmer’s market who washes and bags of cherries that they grew a “manufacturer”?

Traceability.

The industry standard traceability software section could be troublesome, however, Section 107(c)(4) provides and exemption from the requirements for food that is sold directly from farmers to consumers

Imports.

Will the fact that the bill allows the FDA to require food to be certified as meeting safety standards by foreign governments make food safer?  What about China, for example?  Should we rely on their governmental inspection abilities after the powdered milk crisis?

Also, guidelines for imported foods – importers meeting the guidelines will receive expedited processing if they meet the guidelines.  Section 805 is a bit vague about the impact of this.  Provisions like this typically favor those producers with more resources that are easily able to get certified – favoring big agriculture?  Why is the foreign inspectorate corps funded and staffed at the Secretary’s whim, but the local food safety FDA program is funded by the $1000 mandatory fees?

What about past problems?

As an aside, Section 105(4)(B) states that a company such as PCA would have been a Category 2 “low risk” facility, requiring random inspections as little as every three years.  Would that have prevented the outbreak and deaths?

I’m going to read this again.  Bottom line, it is time for us all to engage on this and the various other bills percolating in the Halls of Congress.

“As evidenced by the recent widespread contamination’s in our food supply, including E. coli in spinach, Salmonella in peppers, and the most recent outbreak of Salmonella in peanut butter, it is clear that we must act now.”

These were the words used by Representative Frank Pallone, Jr., Chair of the Health Subcommittee, in a press release regarding the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009. The proposed bill (still in draft form) is the latest in a string of food safety proposals currently in Congress. The Food Safety Enhancement Act is largely based on H.R. 759, the Food and Drug Administration Globalization Act of 2009. As stated, the aim of the bill is, “To amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to improve the safety of food in the global market, and for other purposes.” (Hmm… I wonder what these mysterious ‘other purposes’ are…)

The Food Safety Enhancement Act is divided into two titles: Food Safety and Miscellaneous. The ‘Food Safety’ title includes four subsections: Prevention, Intervention, Response, and Miscellaneous. The highlights of the bill are as follows:

• Requires all facilities operating within the U.S. or importing food to the U.S. to register with the FDA annually.

• Requires registered facilities to pay an annual registration fee of $1,000 in order to generate revenue for food safety activities at the FDA; requires registered facilities to pay for FDA’s costs associated with re-inspections and food recalls; allows FDA to charge a fee to domestic firms requesting export certificates for exported food.

• Sets a minimum inspection frequency for all registered facilities. High-risk facilities would be inspected at least once every 6 to 18 months; low risk facilities would be inspected at least once every 18 months to three years; and warehouses that store food would be inspected at least once every three to four years. Refusing, impeding, or delaying an inspection is prohibited.

• The FDA would be required to issue regulations that require food producers, manufacturers, processors, transporters, or holders to maintain the full pedigree of the origin and previous distribution history of the food and to link that history with the subsequent distribution history of the food; and to establish an interoperable record to ensure fast and efficient trace-back (current law permits facilities to hold a record in any format—paper or electronic—making efficient tracing of foods difficult for FDA).

• Regarding imported food, the bill allows the FDA to require food to be certified as meeting all U.S. food safety requirements by the government of the country from which the article originated or by certain qualified third parties. Third party certifying entities must meet strict requirements to protect against conflicts of interest with the firm seeking certification.

• Strengthens criminal penalties and establishes civil monetary penalties that FDA may impose on food facilities that fail to comply with safety requirements.

• Grants FDA “quarantine” authority under which the agency may restrict or prohibit the movement of unsafe food products from a particular geographic area.

• Requires FDA to establish and maintain a corps of inspectors to monitor foreign facilities producing food, drugs, devices, and cosmetics for American consumers.

Whether the Food Safety Enhancement Act, if enacted, will actually reduce food-borne illness outbreaks remains to be seen. Even if it does, one has to wonder what toll will it take on the small farm movement whose resources may be limited. At least on the surface, the sponsors of the bill appear to have good intentions. As Representative Betty Sutton stated, “Americans need to know that the food on their family’s table and in their children’s lunchboxes will be safe.” Let’s hope this isn’t just political lip service.