After recent food contamination outbreaks from eggs, spinach, tomatoes, peanut butter, and jalapeño peppers that made thousands sick, the U.S. food safety system moved closer this week to its biggest overhaul in decades. The U.S. House of Representatives has passed legislation that would increase inspections and give federal regulators the power to recall tainted foods.
The bill will now be sent to President Obama, who is expected to sign it into law.
Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee called it a good bill, noting that it would give the Food and Drug Administration some critical new authorities.
The legislation would be the most sweeping reform of U.S. food safety laws since 1938, when Congress first gave the FDA authority to oversee the safety of food, drugs and cosmetics. The bill gives the government broad new powers to inspect processing plants, order recalls, and impose more stringent standards for imported foods. Up to 2,000 new federal inspectors may be added to the FDA force.
FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said the bill will give her agency new tools to make substantial improvements in food safety. “This law makes everyone responsible and accountable at each step in today’s global food supply chain,” Hamburg said.
In addition to beefing up inspections, the new law mandates that the nation’s food processors have in place a disease prevention plan that can be reviewed by government inspectors. All food shipped into the country from overseas will have to meet U.S. food safety standards, and federal inspectors will be empowered to travel to foreign countries to check out food processing plants that ship food to the U.S.
Supporters of the legislation called it a victory for American citizens who can now sit down at the dinner table and be confident that their food is going to be safe.
However, small farmers and advocates of buying locally produced foods criticized the bill, saying the increased regulations could bankrupt some small businesses.