Food safety bill garners supporters
Ag groups looking favorably on the Safe FEAST Act
By DAWN WITHERS
The Salinas Californian
A food safety bill introduced Wednesday in the U.S. House of Representatives would give federal leaders much stronger oversight of the nation''s food supply, and it''s being met with praise from agricultural trade groups.
The Safe Food Enforcement, Assessment, Standards and Targeting Act, was introduced by U.S. Reps. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, and Adam Putnam, R-Florida.
The bill would give the national Food and Drug Administration more authority, including:
increased access to records during a food emergency the ability to force a mandatory recall if a company refuses to conduct a voluntary recall and the food poses a risk to public health oversight of domestic and foreign food companies'' records, which would be required to include potential sources of contamination, outlines of food safety controls and documented food safety plans. The bill would also establish new Good Agricultural Practices standards for fruits and vegetables.Bill could boost confidenceCosta, a member of the Committee on Agriculture, and Putnam, chairman of the Republican Conference, said in a statement they expect the measure to earn support among consumers and industry groups.Costa said the bill would "strengthen the relationship between federal and state agencies to better prevent and control food safety threats at all levels of food production."Jim Bogart, president of Salinas-based Grower-Shipper Association of Central California, said the legislation may add more rules for growers to follow, but should improve food safety."(The congressmen) have displayed leadership in introducing this act," Bogart said. "There''s a number of provisions (in the bill) that can work to ... build public confidence in fresh produce."The United Fresh Produce Association has also come out in support of the bill. President Tom Stenzel said in a statement that the bill will work "to enhance a strong food safety regulatory framework."The legislation comes in part as a response to the September 2006 E. coli scare, which ultimately was traced to Dole-brand bagged fresh baby spinach processed at Natural Selection Foods in San Juan Bautista. More than 200 people became sick and three others died in the outbreak, one of at least 20 traced to fresh spinach or lettuce in the past 12 years.Existing rules consideredIn a report last month, congressional investigators found that half of all federal inspections of spinach-packing facilities in the past six years revealed "objectionable conditions," but officials with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration did little to correct the problems.Cathleen Enright, Western Growers'' vice president of federal government affairs in Washington, D.C., said the Costa-Putnam legislation is good because it accounts for the food safety programs and rules growers already follow."That, in my opinion, makes it stand out from other active legislation currently being considered on the Hill," Enright said.Last year, about 12 congressional bills dealing with food safety were introduced, Enright said, but none of them passed through Congress. Enright said she expects this legislative year to be full of similar bills.Western Growers has already come out in opposition to the 2008 Safe Food Act, which first appeared in Congress in February. The Act would combine all federal food safety and inspection agencies - including the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration - into a single administration."That''s a recipe for disaster," said Hank Giclas, vice president for strategic planning, science and technology at Western Growers, during a January conference. "You just have to take a look at what got lost in the convergence of agencies to the Department of Homeland Security."Wednesday''s enforcement bill still needs co-sponsors and either mark-up or a hearing in committee before it can be considered for a vote.