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CU urges Congress to take action on food safety

July 16, 2009

Concerns that the Bill Will Unduly Impact Small and Organic Farmers Unfounded

Washington, D.C.—Consumers Union, nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, urges Congress to take swift action on the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 (FSEA), H.R. 2749, before its August recess. Today the Committee on Agriculture of the U.S. House of Representatives will hold a hearing on current issues in food safety. Consumers Union supports the testimony of Carol Tucker-Foreman of the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and commends the committee for holding a hearing to explore current congressional efforts to address the serious food safety problems that confront the country.
“Our current food safety system is broken and has been in need of reform for more than a decade,” said Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives at Consumers Union. “Last week, the White House announced new food safety recommendations which represent an important step forward, but which can only work within existing, outdated food safety laws. In order to have real food safety reform and give FDA the enforcement power and resources it needs, Congress must move promptly to pass the FSEA. This is a strong bill that can only be weakened by delay and every day without action means more lives needlessly lost to food contamination.”
Each year, 76 million Americans are sickened from consuming contaminated food and 5,000 of these people die. Continued outbreaks of food contamination over the last several years—from spinach to peppers to peanuts, pistachios and cookie dough—have demonstrated that these outbreaks are not random, unpreventable occurrences, but are due to widespread problems with our food safety system.
The FSEA contains several provisions long advocated by Consumers Union. It would require facilities to have written food safety plans, give FDA authority to recall contaminated products and require FDA to inspect high risk facilities at least once a year. Consumers Union has pushed hard for one of the bill’s important provisions: requiring high-risk food processors to test for contaminants and tell the FDA when they find them in a finished product. “Had this provision already been in place, it is possible that the deadly peanut product debacle of early 2009 could have been avoided,” said Halloran.
Speculation that FSEA could “destroy” small farms and organic growers has circulated online and elsewhere, focusing primarily on provisions that direct FDA to develop on-farm standards for produce to prevent problems like deadly E. coli in spinach. The FSEA has sought to address small-scale and organic farmer concerns by requiring FDA to take into account the impact the regulations would have on small-scale and diversified farms, wildlife habitat, conservation practices, watershed protection efforts, and organic production methods.
“The provisions of the FSEA that direct FDA to address on-farm food safety practices, such as whether workers have bathroom facilities, are not as comprehensive as the sections for food processing,” said Halloran. “The FSEA stipulates that food processors must be inspected within certain time periods, but does not set any requirements for FDA inspection of farms. Nevertheless, we think this is a very good bill overall that will address the most important causes of contamination of food with deadly bacteria.”
Consumers Union urges the House of Representatives not to delay further, and to pass H.R. 2749 before Congress adjourns for the August recess.
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Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, is an independent, nonprofit testing and information organization serving the consumer. We are a comprehensive source of unbiased advice about products and services, personal finance, health, nutrition, and other consumer concerns. Since 1936, our mission has been to test products, inform the public, and protect consumers.