Durbin, Gregg, Bipartisan Group of Senators Introduce Comprehensive Bill to Reform FDA's Food Safety Systems

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Judd Gregg (R-NH), Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Richard Burr (R-NC) today introduced bipartisan legislation that will dramatically improve the way the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) protects the safety of the nation’s food supply. The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act will give the FDA new authorities, tools and resources to comprehensively reform the nation’s food safety systems. The bill is also cosponsored by Senators Chris Dodd (D-CT), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA).


“Over the last year we’ve seen major recalls of peanut butter spiked with salmonella, spinach laced with e-coli and chili loaded with botulism,” Durbin said. “These are not isolated incidents and are the result of an outdated, under-funded and overwhelmed food safety system. Today’s bipartisan bill will improve the FDA’s ability to prevent food-borne illness outbreaks and ensure FDA responds quickly and effectively when outbreaks do occur.”


The legislation follows closely on the heels of one of the largest food recalls in the nation’s history. In January, the FDA announced the voluntary recall of Salmonella-tainted peanut products, after hundreds of people nationwide were sickened. To date, nine people have died and more than 650 people have been sickened – half of which are children – in more than forty states.


Today’s bill addresses head-on some of the issues surrounding the peanut product recall by increasing the frequency of inspections at all food facilities; giving the FDA expanded access to records and testing results, and allowing the FDA to recall dangerous food products in the event a company fails to recall a product at the FDA’s request.


Food safety experts note that had any of these provisions been in place, the scope of the recent Salmonella outbreak could have been drastically reduced and the FDA’s response time, dramatically improved.


Senator Gregg stated, “Americans spend more than $1 trillion on food each year—when families go to the local restaurant or to the grocery story, or when children go to school, they shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not they will become ill from the food they eat. Recent outbreaks of food-borne illness and nationwide recalls of contaminated food from both domestic and foreign sources highlight the need for Congress to act to modernize and strengthen our nation’s food safety laws. I’m glad we are bringing this important issue to the forefront during the 111th Congress, and I look forward to working with our Senate colleagues on this bipartisan legislation to ensure the safety of our food and restore confidence in the quality of these products for American families.”


“Americans expect the food on our tables to be safe not cause sickness or even death. Recent outbreaks demonstrate, however, that contaminated foods are being spread nationwide, putting families at serious risk. By increasing resources and mandating higher standards for food safety, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009 takes important steps to protect the nation’s food supply. This bipartisan legislation will improve our ability to prevent food safety problems and respond quickly when they occur,” Kennedy said.


“As Americans are taking stock of the family budget and trying to put food on the table, they should be certain that the food supply is safe. Congress must improve FDA and bring it into the 21st Century so that Americans can make safe and healthy food choices at grocery stores, markets, and restaurants,” Senator Burr said. “This bill gives FDA the tools that public health leaders say are necessary to protect our food supply from natural or deliberate contamination.”


“This legislation will help guard Americans against food-borne illness by providing the FDA with the tools necessary to effectively prevent, detect, and respond to food-borne illnesses,” said Dodd. “Ensuring the safety of our food supply must be a top priority and deserves our full and immediate attention. I am particularly pleased that this bill includes a bipartisan provision I authored to develop consistent federal guidelines for the management of food allergies in schools, protecting and perhaps saving the lives of millions of children with life-threatening food allergies.”


“This plan will help protect every American and help keep all of us healthy by improving and streamlining the FDA’s food safety efforts,” Alexander said. “Americans should be able to go to the grocery store and out to dinner without having to worry about the safety of the food they are eating. I’m also pleased this legislation addresses potentially fatal allergies among students by providing guidelines and grants that will make it easier for schools to prevent emergencies involving life-threatening allergic reactions and be as prepared as possible if one occurs. Parents shouldn’t have to risk their child’s safety in school and wonder whether their son or daughter could suffer a life-threatening allergic reaction at the lunch table.”


“The first responsibility of a government is to protect its citizens,” Klobuchar said. “Ensuring that Americans have safe food is a basic issue of public safety, health and consumer protection. 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. This bill will help give us the tools and authority for better inspections and a more responsive recall system.”


“Whether produced domestically or imported, Americans must be able to trust that the food sold in their grocery stores and restaurants is safe,” said Sen. Chambliss, Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “It is critical to ensure that the Food and Drug Administration has the tools it needs to properly monitor and inspect the food that is consumed in this country. This legislation affords regulators the authority they need to better identify vulnerabilities in our food supply while maintaining the high level of food safety most Americans enjoy and take for granted.”


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. Specifically, the bill:


Improves Our Capacity to Prevent Food Safety Problems

• Hazard analysis and preventive controls: Requires all facilities to have in place preventive plans to address identified hazards and prevent adulteration, and gives FDA access to these plans and relevant documentation.


• Access to records: Expands FDA access to records in a food emergency.


• Third party labs and audits: Allows FDA to recognize laboratory accreditation bodies to ensure U.S. food testing labs meet high quality standards and requires food testing performed by these labs to be reported to FDA. Allows FDA to enable qualified 3rd parties to certify that foreign food facilities comply with U.S. food safety standards.


• Imports: Requires importers to verify the safety of foreign suppliers and imported food. 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.


Improves Our Capacity to Detect and Respond to Food-borne Illness Outbreaks

• Inspection – Increases FDA inspections at all food facilities, including annual inspections of high-risk facilities and inspections of other facilities at least once every four years.


• Surveillance –- Enhances food-borne illness surveillance systems to improve the collection, analysis, reporting, and usefulness of data on food-borne illnesses.


• Traceability – Requires the Secretary of HHS to establish a pilot project to test and evaluate new methods for rapidly and effectively tracking/tracing fruits and vegetables in the event of a food-borne illness outbreak.


• Mandatory Recall – Gives FDA the authority to order a mandatory recall of a food product when a company fails to voluntarily recall the product upon FDA’s request.


• Suspension of Registration – Empowers FDA to suspend a food facility’s registration if there is a reasonable probability that food from the facility will cause serious adverse health consequences or death.


Enhances U.S. Food Defense Capabilities – Directs FDA to help food companies protect their products from intentional contamination and calls for a national strategy to protect our food supply from terrorist threats and rapidly respond to food emergencies.


Increases FDA Resources – Increases funding for FDA’s food safety activities through increased appropriations and targeted fees for domestic and foreign facilities.