Congress Set to Consider Multiple Food-Related Bills

October 7, 2007

In response to recent scares over tainted food imports and E.coli outbreaks in produce, several members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate have introduced (and plan to introduce) a variety of bills aimed at improving food safety and security.  In late September alone, three new bills were introduced.  In addition, two food safety-related amendments to the 2007 “Farm Bill” (H.R. 2419) are expected in the Senate.  Specifically, Representative John Dingell (D-MI) introduced a food safety import bill in the House, and in the Senate, Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Robert Casey (D-PA) introduced a food safety bill and Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) introduced a produce safety bill.  Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) announced plans for an amendment to the 2007 Farm Bill that would force Congress to reauthorize all food safety agencies in 2010, and Senator Harkin announced plans to propose an amendment to the Farm Bill to create a Food Safety Commission.  In addition, the recently-enacted FDA Amendments Act includes various food-related provisions (in Titles IX [Section 912] and X of the new law).

As we previously reported, Rep. Dingell’s bill, the “Food and Drug Import Safety Act of 2007” (H.R. 3610), establishes user fees of up to $50 per line item of imported food and up to $1,000 per line item on imported drugs.  Not less than 90% of the fees would be used to fund inspections, and no more than 10% of the fees could be used for research.  The bill would also restrict food importation to specific points of entry, require food to be labeled with its country of origin, create a voluntary program for import companies to abide by specific food safety guidelines, enhance civil monetary penalties, prevent the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“DHHS”) from terminating or consolidating any FDA field laboratories or FDA district offices, increase food and drug inspections, and create labeling requirements for food containing carbon monoxide.  Rep. Dingell’s bill has already raised concerns over mounting user fees, and two House members, Rep. Gene Green (D-TX) and Rep. Janice Schakowsky (D-IL), question limiting imports to ports with an FDA lab, which could result in ports without an FDA lab losing a significant amount of business, including Houston and Chicago, and logjams at others. 

Sen. Harkin’s bill, the “Fresh Produce Safety Act of 2007” (S. 2077), is much more narrow in scope and is specifically directed at improving the safety of fruits and vegetables.  The bill would require the inspection of facilities that process produce, and would require DHHS to establish standards for agricultural production, including standards for manure application management, exclusion of domestic animals during harvesting and growing season, water standards, and ground water monitoring.  The bill would also create a public education program related to food safety for fresh produce and require DHHS, in consultation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (“USDA”), to promulgate regulations for equivalency with foreign nations that export produce to the U.S.

Sens. Brown and Casey’s bill, the “Food and Product Responsibility Act of 2007” (S. 2081), is a lengthy bill that covers nearly all types of food and many consumer goods.  The bill would give greater authority to FDA and USDA to recall the products they regulate, and would require manufacturers to demonstrate the means to cover the cost of potential recalls before they can place their products into the stream of commerce.  Products covered in the bill include food, drugs, devices and cosmetics, biological products, consumer products, and meat, meat products, poultry, and poultry products, eggs and egg products.

The 2007 Farm Bill, which the House passed earlier this year and the Senate Agriculture Committee is currently considering, has also become vehicle for food safety legislation.  Sen. Durbin, in an effort to force Congress to reform the current food safety system and place all food safety responsibilities in a single federal agency, announced on September 28th that he would propose an amendment to sunset all food safety agencies by 2010.  Sen. Harkin, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, has voiced support for the proposed Durbin amendment, and has also announced plans for his own amendment to the Farm Bill.  The Harkin amendment would create a domestic food safety panel to work with President Bush’s import panel to recommend ways to improve food safety.  Sen. Harkin’s panel would be modeled after the 2002 Food Safety Commission, which never received the appropriations it needed to begin work. 

At this point, with no fewer than 20 FDA-related bills circulating in Congress, the greatest barrier to passing meaningful legislation may be weeding through the sea of bills to decide which to pass and which to scrap. 

By Susan J. Matthees

Categories: Foods