Food Safety Bill Passes Senate: Is it Enough?

December 01, 2010

In our top story today, we take a look at the Senate's passage of S.510 and the implications.

In our top story today, we take a look at the Senate's passage of S.510 and the implications.

After much controversy and discussion, the bill passed yesterday morning in a 73-25 vote. The bill will now be passed on to the House of Representatives for its approval. 

It is the first time in 70 years that Congress has updated the nation’s food safety system. While much of the reports have pointed to the recent outbreaks of Salmonella and E.coli - the bill does much more.

One of the most important changes is that the bill allows the FDA to order a recall. Currently the agency can only suggest the action to food companies to conduct a voluntary recall. In addition, the bill requires larger food processors and manufacturers to register with the FDA and to create detailed food safety plans 

The bill does not apply to meat, poultry or processed eggs, which are regulated by the Agriculture Department.  

The bill had stalled over the regulations for small farmers and producers; an amendment introduced by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) provides scale-appropriate food safety rules for small and mid-sized farms and local processors who gross under $500,000 per year and who sell at least 50% directly to consumers, local retailers or local restaurants. While compromise was reached by Senators agreeing to exempt these operations from the expensive operational food safety plans required of large companies, we feel that this could be a significant problem in the future, and that all food producers must adhere to the same strict regulations if we are to improve our food safety. Exempting anyone who produces foods from the new federal HACCP/ HARCP requirements or produce safety standards puts people at risk.

The other major features of the bill include:

  • Finally a definition - "local" restaurants and retailers as those who are either in-state or within 275 miles of the facility or farm it sources product from - extending what most of us loosely defined local as being 100 miles from the source.
  • FDA to create new produce safety regulations for producers of the highest risk fruits and vegetables.
  • Increasing inspections of domestic and foreign food facilities, and re-directing resources to those operations with the highest risk profiles.
  • Establishing stricter standards for the safety of imported food.
  • FDA gets the authority to withdraw an exemption from a farm or facility that has been associated with a foodborne illness outbreak.

As we have learned over the past few months, the FDA resources have been severely limited, and as a result rarely inspects food facilities and farms, and in some cases not at all. Food illnesses sicken 76 million Americans and kill 5,000 each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Three pathogens, SalmonellaE. coli and Listeriosis are responsible for an estimated 112,500 illnesses and over 900 deaths. 

This legislation affects every citizen of this country on a daily basis, as it substantially modifies the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetics Act and generally gives the Food and Drug Administration better funding, authority and ability to monitor the safety of our food supply. The bill provides the FDA a process for quicker and more effective action against food companies that don't adequately protect against food safety risks.

There is little doubt that we are better off with it, then without - but it is still not enough.

For more information on the bill, click here.