Senators Announce Bill to Beef Up FDA

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A bipartisan group of senators announced a bill Thursday that would empower regulators keeping the nation's food supply safe.

According to the group, the bill would give the Food and Drug Administration mandatory recall authority, require the agency to inspect food facilities more frequently, provide resources to hire new safety inspectors and give the agency access to food producers' records.

Two major sticking points still unresolved and not addressed in the measure: exempting small farmers and producers from some of the regulations and California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein's urging to ban the use of the chemical additive Bisphenol A, also known as BPA, from food and containers.

Feinstein said she will offer an amendment restricting the use of BPA when the bill comes to the floor.

"With this announcement today, we aim to not just patch and mend our fragmented food safety system, we hope to reinforce the infrastructure, close the gaps and create a systematic, risk-based and balanced approach to food safety in the United States," Democratic senators Tom Harkin of Iowa, Richard Durbin of Illinois, Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and Republican senators Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire and Richard Burr of North Carolina said in a joint statement. "We look forward to working with our respective leaderships to take up this bipartisan legislation as soon as possible."

The bill has strong bipartisan support and Senate aides said they hope to bring the measure up in September when the Senate returns from its August recess. No firm timetable has been scheduled for the bill.

"Food safety, if it has a bipartisan consensus, it could move forward and it's looking like it might," Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said.

The House passed a food safety bill in July 2009.

Highlights of the bill include:

Hazard analysis and preventive controls: Requires facilities that manufacture, process, pack or hold food to have in place risk-based preventive control plans to address identified hazards and prevent adulteration and gives the FDA access to these plans and relevant documentation. These requirements do not apply to restaurants or most farms.

Imports: Requires importers to verify the safety of foreign suppliers and imported food. Allows the FDA to require certification for high-risk foods and to deny entry to a food that lacks certification or that is from a foreign facility that has refused U.S. inspectors. Creates a voluntary qualified importer program in which importers with a certification of safety for their foreign supplier can pay a user-free for expedited entry into the United States.

Inspection: Gives the FDA additional resources to hire new inspectors and requires the FDA to inspect food facilities more frequently.

Mandatory Recall Authority: Gives the FDA the authority to order a mandatory recall of a food product if the food will cause serious adverse health consequences or death and a company has failed to voluntarily recall the product upon the FDA's request.

Regulatory Balance: Achieves new requirements without being excessively burdensome. The legislation provides training for facilities to come into compliance with new safety requirements and includes special accommodations for small businesses and farms. It does not interfere with current organic farming practices and does not change the current definition of farm under the 2002 Bioterrorism Act. Any farm that is not currently required to register with the FDA will not be required to do so under this legislation.

Surveillance: Enhances surveillance systems to detect food-borne illnesses.

Traceback: Requires the FDA to establish a pilot project to test and evaluate new methods for rapidly tracking foods in the event of a food-borne illness outbreak.

Increased FDA Resources: Increases funding for the FDA's food safety activities through increased appropriations and targeted fees for food facility re-inspection, food recalls and the voluntary qualified importer program.


John Nolen is a CBS News Capitol Hill Producer. You can read more of his posts in Hotsheet here.