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Two food-safety bills to mandate new produce safety standards

by Joan Murphy | March 05, 2009
WASHINGTON -- Two bills introduced in Congress this month would set new food-safety standards for fresh produce, but both allow leeway in setting those standards.

At a March 2 press conference at DiMare Fresh-Tampa in Riverview, FL, U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam (R-FL) said that he planned to reintroduce his bill, the Safe Food Enforcement, Assessment, Standards & Targeting Act, or the Safe FEAST Act.

The U.S. Food & Drrg Administration "regulations haven't been significantly changed since the Eisenhower administration," said Rep. Putnam, who recently announced his candidacy for the Florida agriculture commissioner post. "The American people need modern regulations that guarantee them a safe and secure food supply."

The bill would set mandatory safety standards for food at all levels in the food chain - from the farm, packing and distribution level through the retail level. It would require food importers to complete a foreign supplier food- safety plan and mandate new safety regulations on fresh fruits and vegetables "when risk and science demonstrate standards are needed." Less risky produce would face meet voluntary standards, and states could apply for variances from the standards.

On the U.S. Senate side, Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and other lawmakers reintroduced the Food Safety Modernization Act, a bill hailed by the United Fresh Produce Association, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and other industry groups.

The bill addresses head-on some of the regulatory gaps that have surfaced during the massive peanut product recall, said Sen. Durbin. It would increase the frequency of inspections at all food facilities, give the FDA expanded access to records and testing results, and allow the FDA to recall dangerous food products in the event a company fails to recall a product at the FDA's request.

The bill would give the FDA authority to set commodity-specific standards for the safety of fresh produce, but states may apply for variances from the standards due to local growing conditions.

The United Fresh Produce Association supports legislation to address produce safety through a mandatory, comprehensive, commodity-specific and science-based approach.

"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," said Tom Stenzel, president and chief executive officer of United Fresh.