Contributing Lawyers

Canada

Cyndee Todgham Cherniak

United States

Susan Kohn Ross

Australia

Andrew Hudson



Food Safety Bill Passes Major Hurdle

On July 30, 2009, the House of Representatives passed the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009. The proposal went through some revisions as it made its way through the legislative process. The bill will now go to the U.S. Senate for further consideration. Whatever its final terms, Congress is responding to tremendous pressure from the public to heighten the ability of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to properly oversee the food supply and detect and manage lapses/violations. This public outcry is, of course, in response to outbreaks involving commodities such as melamine, peppers, peanuts and spinach. Of course, similar pressure regarding lead and phthalates found in toys and other children’s products led to the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CSPIA); see updates on this topic below.

As noted, the next step is for the U.S. Senate to consider the proposal. What specific changes might result remain to be seen, but international traders should expect reforms in areas such as hazard analysis, assessment of potential safety risks, and trace-back systems to allow better management of and quicker response to outbreaks to also be found in the final version of the bill coming out of the Senate. It also seems likely the registration requirement, fee and inspection mandates will remain in place, although some of the rules regarding how customs brokers will be treated have been substantially eased.

In a notice to members, the United Fresh Produce Association said it will focus on a number of issues when food safety is considered by the Senate, and specifically mentioned:

  • Targeting of resources generated by registration fees to specific FDA activities in support of food safety, not bureaucracy;
  • Eliminating unwarranted mandates for finished-product testing that would do nothing to increase food safety;
  • Requiring creation of an expedited entry program for imports that can demonstrate ongoing compliance with safety standards; and
  • Creating better organizational structure for food-safety outbreak management in the federal government, including specific inclusion of industry expertise to rapidly determine the source of outbreaks, remove at-risk product, and clear all concerns to allow for marketplace recovery.

In light of the current state of the economy, coupled with the push for healthcare reform, it is not at all clear when the Senate will be able to take up the issue of food safety, but current thinking is it will be towards the end of the year.

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