Lawmakers urged to look closer at food-safety bill

by Bryan Salvage
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WASHINGTON — Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee are being urged by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association to address unresolved issues in a proposed food-safety bill before moving it forward. The Food Safety and Enhancement Act of 2009, introduced by Reps. John Dingell (D-MI) and Henry Waxman (D-CA), would pose a myriad of unintended consequences especially for the meat industry, which is regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"The United States has the safest food supply in the world," said Kristina Butts, N.C.B.A. manager, legislative affairs. "Any changes to that system should be carefully considered to ensure they provide additional benefits without detracting from successful processes."

One bone of contention is the bill would authorize the Food and Drug Administration to conduct on-farm inspections, undermining U.S.D.A.’s regulatory authority in ensuring the safety of meat and poultry products, N.C.B.A. charged. F.D.A. does not have the money, employees or expertise to properly oversee the livestock and poultry industry, the association added.

"We all agree that food safety is extremely important, and beef producers remain committed to producing safe, nutritious and wholesome beef products. But giving additional broad authority for on-farm food safety plans will not improve food safety and will be an economic burden, not only for beef producers but for the F.D.A.," Ms. Butts said. "Using precious F.D.A. resources for this purpose would be duplicative and would undermine the strong process we currently have in place."

In addition to calling for on-farm F.D.A. inspections, the bill would require F.D.A. to create a tracing system for the complete pedigree of all food, including meat, which is not regulated by the F.D.A. This type of on-farm system would increase production and technology costs for cattle producers and would be overly burdensome for both producers and the F.D.A.

The legislation would also give F.D.A. the authority to create farm safety standards, including manure use and animal control—which are outside of the expertise of F.D.A., and already handled by several other regulatory bodies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior and U.S.D.A.

In addition, the bill would grant F.D.A. authority to quarantine a geographical area during a food health emergency. Giving F.D.A. this type of authority would only serve to confuse and disrupt the strong food-emergency response process that has been handled for decades through a collaborative effort between U.S.D.A., the Department of Homeland Security and states. N.C.B.A. is also concerned that the bill would open up the door for mandatory meat recalls by the F.D.A. U.S.D.A. currently operates under a very successful voluntary recall process, N.C.B.A. stated.

The Food Safety and Enhancement Act of 2009 recently passed by voice vote out of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health. It was stated during the markup that Committee members would continue to work on areas of concern with the legislation before it goes to the full Committee for markup next week.

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