Enhanced Criminal Penalties for Food Safety Violators?

February 1, 2011

By Ricardo Carvajal

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) reintroduced legislation to strengthen criminal penalties for food safety violators in the form of the Food Safety Accountability Act of 2011.  As with the version of the bill introduced last year, the current version would amend Title 18 of the U.S. Code (Chapter 47 – Fraud and False Statements) to add section 1041 (Misbranded and adulterated food), but there have been significant changes.  First, the scope of violations covered by this year’s version of the bill is broader.  Whereas last year’s version of the bill encompassed violations akin to those referenced in FDC Act § 301(a) and (b), this year’s version references the prohibited acts listed in § 301(a), (b), (c), and (k).  Second, the news isn’t all bad for would-be defendants because this year’s version of the bill raises the bar for prosecutors.  Whereas last year’s version would have penalized those who “knowingly” commit certain violations, this year’s version would require the government to show that certain prohibited acts were committed “knowingly and intentionally to defraud or mislead” and “with conscious or reckless disregard of a risk of death or serious bodily injury.”  One thing that hasn’t changed is the penalty for violations, which would carry a fine and/or imprisonment for not more than 10 years.