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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Food Safety Issues for the 113th Congress

Renée Johnson
Specialist in Agricultural Policy

Congress passed comprehensive food safety legislation in December 2010 (FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), P.L. 111-353), representing the largest expansion and overhaul of U.S. food safety authorities since the 1930s. FSMA greatly expanded food safety oversight authority at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), but did not alter oversight authorities within other federal agencies responsible for food safety, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Given challenges facing FDA in implementing this law and also a continued prevalence of food safety incidents, Congress continues to actively address concerns of the U.S. food safety system.

Numerous agencies share responsibility for regulating food safety; however, FSMA focused on FDA-regulated foods and amended FDA’s existing structure and authorities, in particular the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA; 21 U.S.C. §§301 et seq.). Among its many provisions, FSMA expanded FDA’s authority to conduct a mandatory recall of contaminated food products, enhanced surveillance systems for foodborne illness outbreaks, established preventive controls at some food processing facilities and farms, enhanced FDA’s traceability capacity within the nation’s food distribution channels, increased the number of FDA inspections at domestic and foreign food facilities, and expanded FDA’s authority and oversight of foreign companies that supply food imports to the United States. Since the law was signed in January 2011, FDA has been actively engaged in developing regulations to implement FSMA.

The 113
th Congress will likely continue to monitor FDA’s implementation of the law, and provide oversight over how some provisions are carried out and enforced, as well as FDA’s coordination with other federal agencies, such as those in USDA and the Department of Homeland Security. Under FSMA, FDA is responsible for more than 50 regulations, guidelines, and studies; however, some FDA rules under FSMA have been substantially delayed and it is uncertain whether full implementation of some provisions in the law will meet their expected deadlines. Given delays in the rulemaking process, in August 2012, the Center for Food Safety filed suit in federal court against FDA and the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB), citing the government’s failure to implement several food safety regulations required by FSMA. In January 2013, FDA released two major rules under FSMA that propose new requirements for food facilities and produce growers. Other FDA rules under FSMA continue to be delayed. Implementation of the law will also depend on the availability of discretionary appropriations, which remains uncertain in the current budgetary climate.

In addition, the 113
th Congress may continue to consider changes to other food safety laws and policies that continue to be actively debated in Congress. Among these are food safety initiatives covering meat, poultry, and seafood products; legislation intended to curtail the non-medical use of antibiotics in animal feeds and to ban the use of certain plastic components commonly used in food containers; food labeling; stricter food safety enforcement mechanisms; and the use of plant and animal biotechnology. Several of these issues were actively debated in the 111th Congress during the food safety debate leading up to passage of the FSMA. Several bills debated in previous Congresses were reintroduced in the 112th Congress.

Some in Congress also might continue to advocate for additional policy reforms to existing FDA or USDA food safety laws to address other perceived concerns about the safety of the U.S. food supply. These include concerns about the adequacy of resources and regulatory tools to combat foodborne illness, and concerns about coordination and organization among federal agencies.

Date of Report: January 9, 2013
Number of Pages: 34
Order Number: R42885
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