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Food safety measures get hearings in Congress.

In light of the Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak, the U.S. Congress recently held several food safety hearings with witnesses from the Food and Drug Administration, food scientists, trade association representatives, growers and consumer activists. Below are excerpts of testimony from two leading members of Congress who have introduced legislation to address food safety concerns.

Rep. Diana DeGette of Colorado

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The events over the past few months have crystallized the need for a comprehensive food traceability system in this country, particularly with regard to fresh produce. I have been working on trace back legislation for about six years. H.R. 3485, the "TRACE Act," would require the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to set up a food product traceability system that would track foods at all points along the supply chain.

In my opinion we cannot begin to address updating our nation's food safety laws without looking at the ability to track our food.

H.R. 3485 would require the USDA and FDA to set up a system to trace foods throughout the supply chain. Not only is this legislation technologically feasible and cost effective, but it's absolutely critical.

I am not saying that we should be in the business of mandating certain technology. There is a whole host of ways to electronically track foods, and it is already being done by certain companies and certain industries all over the world, using labels, bar coding, wireless radio frequency identification (RFID) readers, lasers, even global positioning systems (GPS).

Where I think the government can be useful is to help coordinate. What we need is an integrated system, rather than a patchwork of different traceability systems. And because of the valuable publichealth and economic benefits to full traceability, I feel the FDA and USDA have a responsibility to help.

We must ensure systems are interoperable and can talk to each other, so food can be continually tracked along the distribution system, especially when there is a transfer of ownership. What I don't want to do is create a system that is overly burdensome for business, or to put a whole new set of costly regulations on our nation's food distributers or small farmers.

A comprehensive trace back program would allow for targeted recalls; if an outbreak occurs we will know exactly what lots were potentially contaminated instead of targeting the entire universe of products like we did with spinach, tomatoes and peppers.

We can find out within seconds where tainted food was sent and where it originated, and have an orderly process of notifying affected consumers and pulling products from shelves. Therefore the 99.9 percent of businesses selling perfectly safe food from perfectly sanitary facilities will be protected against contamination that occurs elsewhere.

Electronic traceability has benefits to business that go beyond brand preservation and insurance against recalls caused by other parts of the market. Traceability brings better inventory control and supplier/customer monitoring practices, and is a good marketing technique to attract and retain customers.

Rep. Adam H. Putnam of Florida

The outbreak of Salmonella Saintpaul, said to be associated with food borne illness affecting an estimated 1,284 people, not only called into question the integrity of the system designed to protect our nation's food supply for the safety and security of consumers, but also caused significant disruptions to the food supply network and those that produce agricultural goods for our nation.

This incident demonstrated that our governing food safety authorities are outdated and must be reformed and enhanced to reflect modern scientific standards and industry practices, as well sound and strong policies implemented to help prevent food contamination.

The Safe Food Enforcement, Assessment, Standards and Targeting Act "Safe FEAST Act," H.R. 5904, would help ensure the highest level of food safety protection for our nation's food supply, both for goods produced domestically and those imported from abroad.

The comprehensive measure would modernize our food safety network and would put into place new food safety standards all along the food chain--from farm,harvest, processing, packing, distribution to retail outlet, and finally to consumers--to identify and prevent potential sources of food borne illness.

The Safe FEAST Act calls for balanced, science-based food safety requirements for farm and food companies, domestically and abroad, implementing the principles of risk assessment and risk management, to improve safeguards in our food supply as well as mitigate unwarranted market disruptions to agricultural suppliers.

The bill focuses on strengthening preventative measures, building upon existing regulations with tough but commonsense standards, while expanding the tools of the FDA to more effectively respond to food safety incidents in this nation.

This bipartisan bill strengthens the relationship between federal and state agencies to better control food safety threats and, for the first time, grants FDA new powers to recall contaminated food in the case of adulteration.

By reinforcing the public-private partnership, the Safe FEAST Act improves FDA's role in safeguarding and overseeing the safe production of food, while drawing upon the strengths of industry to meet the highest food safety standards.

To ensure the highest level of food safety to American consumers, H.R. 5904 requires all domestic and foreignfood companies selling food in the United States to conduct a food safety risk analysis that identifies potential sources of contamination, outlines appropriate food safety controls, and requires verification that the food safety controls implemented are adequate to address the risks of food borne contamination.

Similarly, to ensure that food products coming into the United States from international sources are safe, imported goods would have to adhere to the same safety and quality standards as set by the FDA, through completing a Foreign Suppliers Quality Assurance Program, documenting the food safety measures and controls for FDA review.

H.R. 5904 also establishes key new standards for fresh produce. It improves and expands upon FDA's Good Agricultural Practices for the safe production of fruits and vegetables. For those produce items that are deemed to pose the highest risk, the bill calls for the issuance of mandatory science-based regulations to prevent the occurrence of food borne illness at all potential points of hazard, from farm to table.

While putting into place mandatory food safety standards for high-risk produce, and voluntary guidelines for all other produce--the bill allows for variances in FDA regulations to meet local growing conditions. It also directs FDA to collaborate with USDA regarding agricultural practices in the issuance of regulations.

The Safe FEAST Act strengthens the relationship between, federal, state and foreign government agencies by increasing cooperation to better control food safety threats, and calling on the expertise and resources of these partners to respond to food safety occurrences in a more timely and efficient manner.

Collaboration with state and industry partners is key. My home state of Florida has adopted mandatory regulations on Good Agricultural Practices (TGAP) and Best Management Practices (TBMP) for the production and handling of tomatoes through all channels of commerce. Developed as a cooperative effort between the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Florida tomato industry, and the FDA, these best practices are based upon sound scientific research, provide traceability, and establish practices and procedures for the safe handling of tomatoes.

Finally, to better control food safety threats, the Safe FEAST Act directs the FDA to adopt a risk-based approach to inspections, grants the FDA statutory power to recall contaminated food in the case of adulteration, and gives FDA authority to access food safety production records during food borne emergencies.

Laura Phelps

AMI President

AMI Update is a regular column that covers topics relevent to members.
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Title Annotation:ami update
Author:Phelps, Laura
Publication:Mushroom News
Date:Sep 1, 2008
Words:1263
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