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FDA Gets Ready to Enact New Food Safety Bill

Source: WSJ

Posted on 04 Jan 2011

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Congress in the last days of 2010 passed a new food-safety bill, which expected to be signed into law today. And the FDA is already working to write the regulations needed to enact the bill, Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said Monday.

"Today, one out of six Americans gets sick from food-bourn illness each year with 128,000 people ending up in the hospital and 3,000 people dying every year," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told reporters Monday.

Congress will need to appropriate an additional $1.4 billion over five years for the FDA to fully implement the bill, Ms. Hamburg said, but there are also plenty of improvements to the way FDA oversees food safety that can made in the meantime.

"There's a lot that we can do both quickly and meaningfully," Ms Hamburg said. The FDA is already crafting the new safety standards for fruits and vegetables that is called for in the law, she said.

Consumer, industry and a wide array of other groups that support the legislation will be lobbying Congress this year for the $1.4 billion, said Erik Olson, director of the Food and Consumer Safety Programs at the Pew Charitable Trusts.

The FDA already has several hundred million dollars to begin writing and enacting some new food-safety provisions, but the additional money will be key in sending more inspection personnel to farms and food production facilities, Mr. Olson said.

"That's why we think its going to be very important for both the industry folks...and our consumer coalition and public health groups to all make the case to Congress that this is money well invested," he said.

The new food-safety law also contains a new authority for the FDA that allows the agency to mandate food recalls. Currently the FDA can only request that companies conduct recalls and that has caused delays in getting contaminated products off the shelves.