most significant changes to food safety regulation in 70 years were
approved by Congress on Tuesday, giving broad new powers to the Food and Drug Administration to step up inspections aimed at preventing outbreaks of disease in the nation's food production system.
The law also exempts small, local growers in California and elsewhere
from the strictest of new regulations - an exception that recognizes
higher risks of contamination among large food producers and the reality
that frequent inspections would be too expensive for small farmers.
Approved on a 215-144 bipartisan House vote, the new regulations also
include FDA-initiated recalls and for the first time hold imported food
to the same standards as domestic food. The Senate approved the bill in
its final version on Sunday. House approval sends the measure to
President Obama for his signature.
"It's a victory for the food movement, which was able to draw a line
between the specific risks of highly industrialized food production and
the narrower but still real risks of producing food on a smaller scale,"
said Michael Pollan, a UC Berkeley journalism professor and best-selling author.
The bill gives vast authority to the FDA to inspect produce for
bacterial contamination that could lead to salmonella or E. coli
diseases in a wide array of products.
Peanuts, peppers, spinach, jalapenos and eggs have come under closer
scrutiny as the FDA and food producers attempt to head off food-borne
illnesses such as a salmonella outbreak last summer that led to the
recall of half a billion eggs and sickened hundreds of people across 14
states. The Department of Agriculture continues to have authority over meat, poultry and some dairy products.
According to a study released last week by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
1 in 6 Americans gets sick each year from food-borne diseases and about
3,000 of those cases result in fatalities. The report found salmonella
to be the leading cause of hospitalization and death among known food
The new law gives the FDA the power to initiate food recalls and have
access to company records at farms and production centers to help track
outbreaks of food-borne illnesses. In addition, the FDA will set
quality standards for imported produce, which makes up a higher portion
of Americans' diets than ever before.
The bill is expected to cost $1.4 billion over the next four years, which includes hiring 2,000 FDA inspectors.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., added an amendment to the federal
legislation that exempts producers with less than $500,000 in annual
sales and who sell either within a state or within 275 miles of their
Sen. Dianne Feinstein,
D-Calif., added an amendment to the Senate version of the bill that
would have banned bisphenol-A, the chemical used in cans and other food
packaging that has been linked to health problems. The amendment was
Large agriculture groups were disappointed by passage of the bill,
particularly the exemption for small farmers. But the National
Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, a grassroots agriculture group, said
it will create "scale-appropriate standards to promote food safety
without undermining family farm production, natural resource
conservation and local entrepreneurship."
Consumer groups also praised the bill.
"This win is a powerful testament to the people across the country
who came to Washington to tell their lawmakers how contaminated food had
killed their loved ones or left them horribly sick," said Jean
Halloran, director of food policy initiatives at Consumers Union.