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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Federal Food Safety System: A Primer

Renée Johnson
Specialist in Agricultural Policy

Numerous federal, state, and local agencies share responsibilities for regulating the safety of the U.S. food supply, which many experts say is among the safest in the world. Nevertheless, critics view this system as lacking the organization, regulatory tools, and resources to adequately combat foodborne illness—as evidenced by a series of widely publicized food safety problems, including concerns about adulterated food and food ingredient imports, and illnesses linked to various types of fresh produce, to peanut products, and to some meat and poultry products. 

A number of comprehensive food safety proposals aimed at addressing perceived shortcomings in the U.S. food safety system were introduced but not enacted by the 110th Congress. These included measures to reform the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA's) oversight of food and other imports, to create a new independent food safety agency, and to impose a variety of new requirements on food manufacturers, handlers, and producers (including farms), such as mandated risk-based safety plans, recordkeeping for product tracing purposes, more rigorous registration requirements, and performance standards. The adequacy of inspection resources also has been at issue, and appropriators have been ramping up funding for the major agencies, particularly FDA. 

Bills with similarly broad goals (such as H.R. 759, which was revised and reintroduced in June 2009 as H.R. 2749; H.R. 875; H.R. 1332; and S. 510) re-emerged in the 111th Congress. On the one hand, food safety reform is a relatively complex, controversial matter competing for attention with a long list of domestic priorities. On the other hand, there has been a growing consensus that changes are needed. 

Lawmakers took the first step toward new legislation on June 10, 2009, when the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health approved an amended version of H.R. 2749. The full committee approved the bill, with additional changes, on June 17, 2009, and the full House passed a further-modified H.R. 2749 on July 30, 2009. Senate work on a comprehensive, but differing, food safety bill (S. 510 by Senator Durbin) commenced with a November 18, 2009, markup by the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. This was followed by additional changes agreed to by Senate leaders in a "Manager's Package" that was released on August 12, 2010. Senate floor action remains pending, but is widely anticipated by stakeholders. (For more details see CRS Report R40443, Food Safety: Selected Issues and Bills in the 111th Congress.)

Date of Report: August 18, 2010
Number of Pages: 14
Order Number: RS22600
Price: $29.95

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