Revised US Food Safety Law Predicted This Year

US - Speaking at Reuters Food and Agriculture Summit 2010, US Rep. DeLauro said she expects Congress to pass food safety law this year, which would include meat and poultry inspection. The bill could be held up because of trade implications but new trade deals should include food safety provisions. An expert panel of scientists should look at USDA system, she said.
calendar icon 22 March 2010
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Congress will pass a new law to overhaul the antiquated US food safety system by the end of the year, US Representative Rosa DeLauro, an influential House lawmaker, said last week at Reuters Food and Agriculture Summit 2010 .

The first major reform of the system in 50 years could be followed by another close look at how meat and poultry are inspected, and the changes may create friction with trade partners, said the chairman of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee.

"I have every confidence that we are going to pass food safety legislation and this legislation is going to get to the president for a signature and that that's going to happen this year," said Connecticut Democrat, Ms DeLauro, who was speaking at the Reuters Summit.

The House passed its bill last July. But a companion Senate bill has been held up by work on health-care and financial regulatory reform. It also has been stalled by the US Trade Representative's office, which wants to ensure reforms do not contravene trade agreements, Ms DeLauro said.

"Trade should never trump public health," she said.

Ms DeLauro, an advocate for tougher food safety laws, said her subcommittee will hold hearings in the next couple of months to examine whether new trade agreements negotiated by the United States should include food safety provisions.

"We need to do something before the agreement is put into place that guarantees that the product and its process and its manufacture is equal to the process that exists in the United States," she said.

Ms DeLauro's subcommittee effectively banned US imports of Chinese chicken for two years, sparking a WTO complaint. Three pending US trade deals have been held up by the Obama administration, which has insisted agreements must protect worker rights and the environment.

The US Food and Drug Administration, which oversees 80 per cent of the US food supply, has made "impressive strides in rectifying their problems," Ms DeLauro said, but more needs to be done, she said, citing recent recalls of foods made with a common flavouring contaminated with salmonella and a recall of more than one million pounds of sausages and salami.

Since 2006, the US food supply has been battered by high-profile outbreaks involving lettuce, peppers, peanuts and spinach. Foodborne illnesses cost the United States $152 billion in health-related expenses each year, according to a recent study. An estimated 76 million people in the United States get sick every year with foodborne illness and 5,000 die, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"It's amazing that until people start to die we don't take notice of the difficulties that are out there," Ms DeLauro said.

The new law considered by Congress would give FDA mandatory recall authority, increase the frequency of food inspections and require food safety plans for food-makers.

Lawmakers next need to look at the role of the US Department of Agriculture, which is charged with inspection of meat, poultry and eggs, Ms DeLauro said.

An independent expert panel should examine whether the USDA food system needs reform, following a similar review of the FDA which made recommendations to Congress, she said.

The panel should address potential conflicts faced by the USDA, which promotes as well regulates food, she said.

Overlapping jurisdictions should also be examined, she said, citing an recent salami recall, where USDA oversees meat while FDA regulates the ingredient that spurred the recall.

Ms DeLauro added: "You've got the salami scare, and it may be the peppers in the salami [that are contaminated] but USDA does the salami and FDA does the peppers. It is madness to think this is the way we ought to do business," concluded the report from the Reuters Food and Agriculture Summit 2010.

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