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June 17: Food safety bill up in House committee

June 16, 2009

Food Safety Bill Up for House Committee Vote June 17
Consumers Union Urges Passage of a Strong Bill to Protect Consumers

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Food safety legislation will be marked up by the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday, June 17.
Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, urged committee members to approve a strong bill that protects consumers and helps prevent future outbreaks like the recent salmonella contamination at the Peanut Corporation of America plant. CU called on committee members to promptly send a strong bill to the House floor for passage.
“We need Congress to act before another deadly contaminant is found, like those in spinach and peanut butter,” said Jean Halloran, Consumers Union’s director of food safety initiatives. “The salmonella found in peanut butter earlier this year cost the food industry more than a hundred million dollars, and cost nine consumers their lives. This must not be repeated,” she said.
The Food Safety Enhancement Act was passed by the House and Energy Subcommittee on Health last week.
“We supported the bill approved by the subcommittee,” said Ami Gadhia, policy counsel for Consumers Union. “As the bill comes before the full committee, we hope that members will preserve the strong provisions in the legislation, and seek ways to make a good bill even better. We would like a clause to be added that requires companies to test for contaminants and tell FDA when they find them. We need to avoid a situation like the Peanut Corporation of America, where their own tests showed salmonella to be present but they did not reveal that information to the FDA.”
Consumers Union pointed to several key provisions in the subcommittee bill that it urges the full committee to retain, including:

  • Inspections of high-risk food facilities at least every 6-18 months (or more frequently) as well as regular, frequent inspection of lower-risk facilities
  • Meaningful penalties of up to $100,000, or up to $500,000 in some cases, for those who violate our safety laws
  • Language clearly preserving strong state statutes and regulations—such as Georgia’s new law requiring more frequent testing at certain food facilities
  • A requirement that businesses keep basic safety records in a standard format so they are easier for FDA to review.
  • Consumers Union said that increased inspection frequency is critical to thwarting future outbreaks. “Increased inspection means that FDA can catch – and prevent – food safety problems before they become crises,” Halloran said. The bill would also give FDA, for the first time, the power to demand the recall of a contaminated food.
    The current version of the bill calls for registration fees of $500 per facility to support the FDA’s food safety oversight, while the original version of the bill called for $1000. “We would prefer that the committee restore the original fees. These fees represents the shared responsibility of the food industry in making the products they sell safe for consumers,” Gadhia said.
    Media Contacts:
    David Butler, 202-462-6262
    Kristina Edmunson, 202-462-6262
    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.