retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The Sacramento Bee reports that a new bill introduced this week by a California Democrat and a Florida Republican would require that imported food would have to meet US safety standards, a move that the sponsors said would increase consumer confidence about the food supply.

"We hope this will establish a gold standard for food safety, as well as a standard for our foreign food supplies," said Rep. Jim Costa (D-California).

The Bee writes: "Backed by farm industry groups such as the Western Growers Association and the United Fresh Produce Association, the new bill vies for attention with a more aggressive effort introduced previously by other House Democrats. To some extent, Costa's bill could be construed as the food industry's negotiating stance.

"The House Energy and Commerce Committee will discuss today a broader food safety bill introduced by committee Chairman Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich. That would impose a new $2,000 inspection fee on U.S. food-producing facilities, doubling the Food and Drug Administration's food safety budget.

"The Grocery Manufacturers Association, which supports Costa's bill, contended that Dingell's bill imposes 'unfair food taxes.'

"Both bills, and others seeking to regulate food safety, have been introduced in the wake of high-profile contamination scares. These include, most notably, Salinas Valley leafy greens found to be tainted by E. coli bacteria in late 2006. The tainted spinach was blamed for at least three deaths and more than 200 sicknesses nationwide."

Meanwhile, in testimony before the U.S. House of Representative’s Committee on Energy and Commerce and the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, representatives of the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) offered opinions about the best way to modernize that improve the nation's food safety infrastructure.

“Congress must take steps to help FDA and the food industry address new challenges posed by rising food imports and changing consumer preferences,” said GMA President and CEO Cal Dooley. “That said, we oppose the FDA Globalization Act. During this time of record increases in food prices, the bill imposes a billion dollars in new taxes on consumers and proposes burdensome regulations that will not be effective in enhancing food safety.”

“We propose that Congress modernize our food safety system by fostering a robust partnership between government and the food industry, significantly increasing FDA funding through general funds, and by making risk and the prevention of contamination the focus of our food safety strategies,” said Chief Science & Regulator Affairs Officer Robert Brackett, who formerly was with the FDA.

GMA urged Congress to:

• Give FDA the power to establish safety standards for fruits and vegetables.
• Require food companies to have a food safety plan, subject to FDA review.
• Require every food importer to police their foreign suppliers, ensuring their standards meet those of the FDA.
• Build the capacity of foreign governments and enlist the help of the private sector.
• Give the FDA new powers to address bad actors, by granting the Secretary mandatory recall authority.

KC's View:
Just one question here. A simple one.

Do you think that most Americans would be surprised that food imports currently don't have to meet US food safety standards, and that we need new legislation to make it so?