Bemidji Pioneer

Brad Swenson

Food safety efforts under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration would be bolstered under a bill introduced this week in the U.S. Senate.

Authored by U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, DFL-Minn., and a host of others, the nation’s food safety system would be overhauled , a response to the recent nationwide peanut butter salmonella outbreak.

“The first responsibility of a government is to protect its citizens,” Klobuchar said in a statement this week. “Ensuring that Americans have safe food is a basic issue of public safety, health and consumer protection.”

The bipartisan bill focuses on four key areas where FDA’s authorities and resources need to be improved: food-borne illness prevention; food-borne illness detection and response; food defense capabilities; and overall resources.

“Whenever contaminated food is allowed to reach consumers, public trust in the integrity of our food supply and the effectiveness of our government is undermined,” Klobuchar said. “This bill will help give us the tools and authority for better inspections and a more responsive recall system.”

The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009 was introduced by Klobuchar and Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Judd Gregg, R-N.H., Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., Richard Burr, R-N.C., Chris Dodd, D-Conn., Lamar Alexandria, R-Tenn., and Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.

Klobuchar, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, held a roundtable with Minnesota experts last month to discuss reforms needed to overall the system.

“Making sure we have annual inspections of facilities that pose the greatest risk to the American public will go a long way towards ensuring this doesn’t happen again.” said Klobuchar. “We have some great examples in Minnesota of how this can be done right, from food producers to food processors to the University of Minnesota, which was the first to detect the source of the peanut problems.”

Among key provisions in the bill are:

-- Hazard analysis and preventive controls by requiring all facilities to have in place preventive plans to address identified hazards and prevent adulteration, and gives FDA access to the plans and relevant documentation.

-- Access to records by expanding FDA access to records in a food emergency.

-- Third-party audits in allowing FDA to recognize laboratory accreditation bodies to ensure U.S. food testing labs meet high quality standards and requiring food testing performed by those labs to be reported to FDA. It allows FDA to enable qualified third parties to certify that foreign food facilities comply with U.S. food safety standards.

-- New import provisions that requires importers to verify the safety of foreign suppliers and imported food. It allows 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.

The bill also improves the government’s capacity to detect and respond to food-borne illness outbreaks by increasing FDA inspections at all food facilities, including annual inspections of high-risk facilities and inspections of other facilities at least once every four years.

Provisions are included for surveillance, traceability, mandatory recall and suspension of registration of a facility if there is reasonable probability that food from it will cause serious adverse health consequences.

The measure would increase FDA resources through increased appropriations and targeted fees for domestic and foreign facilities, Klobuchar said.

President Barack Obama’s 2010 budget blueprint includes $1 billion in increased health and human services funding for FDA food safety efforts to increase and improve inspections, domestic surveillance, laboratory capacity and domestic response to prevent and control food-borne illness.

U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, DFL-7th District, chairman of the U.S., House Agriculture Committee, has said he will reintroduce a bill that moves FDA’s food inspection authority to the U.S. Agriculture Department, which has authority over meat and poultry inspections.

He is expected to call hearings on food safety sometime this month.

Obama’s 2010 budget blueprint for USDA calls for additional resources to improve food safety inspection and assessment and the ability to determine food safety risks.

“The president’s budget takes steps to improve the safety of the nation’s supply of meat, poultry and processed egg products and to ensure that these products are wholesome and accurately labeled and packaged,” the budget blueprint states.

Klobuchar said the Senate legislation has support from the Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, American Feed Industry Association, American Spice Trade Association, American Frozen Food Institute and the Center for Science in the Public Interest.