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Wednesday, December 22, 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 110
th 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 111
th 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. The Senate also has reported a comprehensive bill (S. 510).

The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee amended and approved S. 510, and later reported it in December 2009. In mid-July 2010, potential amendments to the bill were being discussed, aimed at addressing issues of continued interest to various Senators. In August 2010, a group of Senate leaders released a manager’s amendment to S. 510. However, Senate floor action continued to be held up by objections about the projected cost of the bill, as well as continued attempts to further amend it. In November 2010, the Senate resumed consideration of its bill and a second substitute amendment to S. 510 (S.Amdt. 4715) was offered. This substitute amendment to S. 510 passed the Senate on November 30, 2010. Following passage of the Senate bill, however, it was reported that the House may block the Senate bill using a procedure known as “blue-slipping,” because the bill contains fees that might be subject to certain tax origination provisions. (For more details see CRS Report R40443, Food Safety in the 111
th Congress: H.R. 2749 and S. 510.)

Date of Report: December 15, 2010
Number of Pages: 14
Order Number: RS22600
Price: $29.95

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