Despite the promise of additional funding for the FDA (see above), calls for reform to the current US food safety system, which has been described as seriously out of date and fragmented, have continued to escalate following a salmonella outbreak linked to peanut products last year. Several bills that aim to overhaul it are before Congress. Among them is a bill introduced by Representative Rosa DeLauro, resurrected from September 2008, which calls for:
- a separate food safety agency to be carved out of the FDA;
- the frequency of food manufacture plant inspections to be based on each plant’s risk profile; and
- certification that all food imports have been produced to US safety standards.
Senator Richard Durbin and Representative John Dingell have also introduced food safety bills since January, following a growing number of recent food recalls. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has called for better communication and collaboration between the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the FDA and for the White House’s new food safety working group – set up to examine ways to reform the current system – to discuss strengthening current recall arrangements to minimise future disease outbreaks. The FDA currently has no power to declare a recall: all it can do is encourage manufacturers to instigate a recall voluntarily.
Consumer groups and the food industry itself support reforms in food safety. Senator Durbin’s bill in particular has the backing of industry groups, due to its funding scheme and third party accreditation system, whereas Representative DeLauro’s bill, with its stringent recall and inspection requirements, tougher penalties and lack of detail on funding, has received more criticism.