A bipartisan group of four senators announced yesterday they’re taking on one of today’s most pressing issues. No, not that pesky bank bailout—the efficiency of the FDA.

U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), Judd Gregg (R-New Hampshire), Ted Kennedy (D-Massachusetts), and Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) want to dramatically improve the way the FDA protects the safety of the nation’s food supply. The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act aims to give the FDA new authorities, tools, and resources to reform safety systems.

“Recent outbreaks of food-borne illness and nationwide recalls of contaminated food from both domestic and foreign sources highlight the need for Congress to act to modernize and strengthen our nation’s food safety laws,” Gregg says.

The bipartisan bill focuses on four key areas where the FDA’s authorities and resources need to be improved: food-borne illness prevention; food-borne illness detection and response; food defense capabilities; and overall resources.

“This legislation affords regulators the authority they need to better identify vulnerabilities in our food supply while maintaining the high level of food safety most Americans enjoy and take for granted,” says Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia), a cosponsor of the bill.

The CEO of the United Fresh Produce Association, Tom Stenzel, called the bill a “positive step” and says the industry supports a mandatory, comprehensive, commodity-specific, science-based approach to food safety.

“We also support the legislation’s goal to develop a comprehensive network of federal and state partners who will work with growers and our entire supply chain to ensure that good agricultural and handling practices are implemented throughout the industry,” Stenzel says.

Specifically, the bill:

Improves the Capacity to Prevent Food-Safety Problems

• Hazard analysis and preventive controls: Requires all facilities to have in place preventive plans to address identified hazards and prevent adulteration and gives FDA access to these plans and relevant documentation.

• Access to records: Expands FDA access to records in a food emergency.

• Third party labs and audits: Allows FDA to recognize laboratory accreditation bodies to ensure U.S. food-testing labs meet high-quality standards and requires food testing performed by these labs to be reported to FDA. Allows FDA to enable qualified third parties to certify that foreign food facilities comply with U.S. food-safety standards.

• Imports: Requires importers to verify the safety of foreign suppliers and imported food. Allows FDA to require certification for high-risk foods and to deny entry to a food that lacks certification or that is from a foreign facility that has refused U.S. inspectors.

Improves the Capacity to Detect and Respond to Food-Borne Illness Outbreaks

• Inspection: Increases FDA inspections at all food facilities, including annual inspections of high-risk facilities and inspections of other facilities at least once every four years.

• Surveillance: Enhances food-borne illness surveillance systems to improve the collection, analysis, reporting, and usefulness of data on food-borne illnesses.

• Traceability: Requires the secretary of Health and Human Services to establish a pilot project to test and evaluate new methods for rapidly and effectively tracking fruits and vegetables in the event of a food-borne illness outbreak.

• Mandatory recall: Gives FDA the authority to order a mandatory recall of a food product when a company fails to voluntarily recall the product upon FDA’s request.

• Suspension of registration: Empowers FDA to suspend a food facility’s registration if there is a reasonable probability that food from the facility will cause serious adverse health consequences or death.

Enhances U.S. Food Defense Capabilities

Directs FDA to help food companies protect their products from intentional contamination and calls for a national strategy to protect our food supply from terrorist threats and rapidly respond to food emergencies.

Increases FDA Resources

Increases funding for FDA’s food-safety activities through increased appropriations and targeted fees for domestic and foreign facilities.

–Blair Chancey

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