Livestock and grain farmers are concerned about proposed legislation to overhaul the nation’s food-safety system and don’t want the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspecting farms.
Currently, the FDA regulates 80 percent of the food supply, ensuring the safety of domestic and imported foods except for meat and poultry. While the Food Safety and Inspection Service, part of the USDA, is responsible for the other 20 percent, inspecting cattle, goats, sheep and swine – before and after slaughter. Both agencies share egg safety.
The food-safety legislation would, among other things expand FDA access to food company records and tests, give the agency power to order mandatory food recalls and increase funding.
But grain and livestock farmers rebuffed lawmakers and regulators at the House Agriculture Committee hearing on Thursday, saying the legislation is unclear.
“Live animals are not ‘food’ until the point of processing. The bill needs to clarify that the FDA does not have the regulatory power on our farms, feedlots and ranches,” said Sam Ives, a veterinarian speaking on behalf of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
Two powerful lawmakers are at odds over the food-safety bill: Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) and Rep. John Dingell (D. Mich.), a main supporter of the bill. They plan to meet again with Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D., Calif.) to seek further clarification.
If Peterson’s committee gives the bill an adverse report, that will have an impact on when – or if – it is brought up for floor action.
On complicated measures, such as this one, the bill gets reviewed and changed by several committees with jurisdiction over all or a portion of the legislation. The first version of the food safety bill (HR2749) was approved June 17.
Discord over legislation to address gaps in the nation’s food-safety system shows farmers’ worries about new regulatory requirements by the agency. The FDA has been under fire for a string of foodborne-illnesses revolving around hot peppers, peanut butter and spinach.
The USDA hasn’t received nearly as much criticism despite recent beef recalls. The agency operates under different laws and is better funded than that of the FDA. Generally, its inspection rules are considered more rigorous than that of the FDA.
Officials from both agencies tried easing farmers’ concerns at Thursday’s hearing saying the legislation won’t change their jurisdictions.
“Both agencies have seen ‘unprecedented cooperation’ through the White House’s cabinet-level panel on food safety,” said Mr. Jerold Mande, deputy undersecretary for food safety at the USDA.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 5,000 people in the United States die each year because of food-borne disease. #