WASHINGTON — The congressional effort to push health care reform legislation through as quickly as possible has put other legislative priorities on the back burner.
Among them is one of the first pieces of legislation introduced by the new Congress and one of the most important to the Grocery Manufacturers Association: the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, or S. 510. The House passed its version, H.R. 2749, The Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009, in July, with the support of GMA.
“In the Senate we are equally optimistic that a good bill will come out, but that will depend not only on the schedule of the Senate but also on health care reform,” said Pamela G. Bailey, president and chief executive officer, GMA, in an interview with SN. “Right now, health care is the top priority for both houses.”
Food safety “is an important piece of legislation that enjoys bipartisan support,” she explained, and, she noted, it also is an issue that is important to the American public.
“That's why once we get some clarity on health care reform, we will see a renewed focus on moving food safety quickly,” she said.
She cited a list of supporters in the Senate, including the late Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., whose co-sponsorship of the bill was one of his last acts as a senator, Bailey pointed out.
“The fact that food safety legislation was one of the last pieces of legislation he sponsored speaks volumes as to the broad support and thoughtfulness of the legislation,” Bailey said.
The lead sponsors of the Senate bill were Sens. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., and Judd Gregg, R-N.H.
S. 510, first introduced in March, focuses on expanding the Food and Drug Administration's authority in four key areas, according to a statement by Durbin: foodborne illness prevention; foodborne illness detection and response; food defense capabilities; and overall resources.
Among its proposals, the bill would:• Require all facilities to have preventive plans to address potential hazards and prevent adulteration, and give FDA access to those plans.
• Expand FDA access to records in a food emergency.
• Allow FDA to recognize laboratory accreditation bodies to ensure U.S. food testing labs meet quality standards.
• Allow FDA to enable third-party inspectors to certify that foreign food facilities comply with U.S. food safety standards.
• Require importers to verify the safety of foreign suppliers and imported food, and allow FDA to deny entry to a food that lacks certification or that is from a foreign facility that has refused U.S. inspectors.