Federal Eye: Food (Safety) Fight

Lawmakers have proposed several competing measures in recent weeks to reform the nation’s food safety efforts and pump more money into the Food and Drug Administration, the nation’s primary food safety inspection agency. While the ideas have sparked a government-wide “food fight” over turf, ideology and funding, they come as the recent salmonella outbreak involving peanut products has killed at least nine people and could cost the peanut industry more than $1 billion.

In the House, Democrats propose giving FDA greater enforcement powers, including the ability to request a food manufacturing plant’s food safety records and subpoena companies that violate guidelines. The House bill is similar to a Senate proposal introduced last week.

While it’s not the government’s study to make food safe, it should “set standards for food safety and hold the food industry accountable for meeting those standards through regulatory and enforcement authorities,” said Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on health and a cosponsor of Dingell’s bill. “We must empower the FDA with those authorities, so that the agency can effectively prevent problems from ever occurring, rather than simply reacting once something bad has happened.”

During a hearing he chaired today, Pallone and most of his colleagues agreed that the government should first address concerns at FDA before exploring proposals to merge all of the government’s food safety efforts.

“Our first goal should be to address the problems that plague this program where it currently sits,” said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) “After we finish that job, we can consider whether a reorganization is necessary, and, if necessary how to go about it.”

If and when they reach that point, there’s a proposal from Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) that would merge most government responsibilities for food safety under a new Food Safety Administration. DeLauro has made similar proposals in the past, but this time she has support of officials including Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who generally supports her ideas.

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