The U.S. House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health has passed a food-safety bill that would give the Food and Drug Administration broader reach, including some authority on farms. It also would charge food processors a yearly $500 fee and impose tighter FDA scrutiny. The bill is called Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009, and was introduced by Reps. John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).

Waxman is the House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman. He noted that the user feeds would go to FDA, giving the agency a "much-needed infusion of resources to keep the food supply safe." The panel's health subcommittee approved the legislation on a voice vote.

Critics argue that the program will cost much more than the user fees would cover and that solid cost estimates don't exist, nor is there a plan for where to get the money and personnel to see the bill through. The concern is that FDA's reach would extend to the farm, where it currently has no regulatory authority, that's currently USDA's jurisdiction. For now, it appears that the rules would affect everyone from small, local businesses to large feed milling companies such as Cargill and cereal processors such as Kelloggs and General Mills. The motivation behind the legislation is a series of nationwide food-safety related illness and recalls in recent years such as those involving spinach, peanut butter and other foods already regulated by DA.

The legislation would require processors and growers to meet standards aimed at preventing food contamination and it would increase inspections. Proponents like to point out that FDA regulates 80 percent of the nation's food supply but has less authority and a smaller food safety budget than USDA, which regulates meat and poultry. However, USDA's budget has a much broader reach, including social food related programs including school lunch and food stamps, so a careful apples-to-apples comparison is needed.

American Meat Institute called out the following concerns within the bill:

  • The control the bill would give the government over company Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point plans
  • The "full pedigree" traceability of foods required of FDA by the bill
  • Proposed user fees to pay for food safety inspection services
  • Empowering FDA to mandate recalls and impose civil penalties
  • Changes the bill would make in how FDA determines whether a substance is generally recognized as safe.

Specific to the bill's HACCP plan portion, J. Patrick Boyle, AMI President and chief executive officer, said the proper role of government should be to verify that companies have conducted proper hazard analysis, not to establish the hazards and mandate preventive controls.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association also has several concerns about the bill, including:

  • FDA being authorized to conduct on-farm inspections, which NCBA said would undermine USDA's regulatory authority, would not improve food safety and would be costly.
  • The "full pedigree" traceability required of FDA by the bill (which would include meat, which is not regulated by FDA).
  • Giving FDA authority to create farm-safety standards, including manure use and animal control, which NCBA said are outside FDA's expertise and already handled by USDA, Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior.
  • Granting FDA authority to quarantine a geographic area during a food-health emergency, which NCBA said would disrupt the food emergency response process that currently includes USDA, the Department of Homeland Security and individual states.
  • Giving FDA mandatory recall authority while NCBA said USDA's voluntary recall system is working well.
  • The bill will move to the full House Energy and Commerce Committee for markup next week. Similar bills have been introduced in the Senate.