Roskam, Kirk: FDA Lacks Proper Oversight on Food Imports, Unadaptable System Leaves U.S. Vulnerable
Congressmen Peter J. Roskam (R-IL) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) announced legislation today to secure our nation's food system and close a dangerous Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversight loophole. Representatives Roskam and Kirk were joined by Elk Grove High School Principal Dr. Nancy Holman.
"The threat of contaminated food imports reaching our families' plate is real, not hypothetical," said Roskam. "Public health officials have estimated 76 million people become sick, 325,000 are hospitalized, and 5,000 Americans die from food borne illnesses caused by contamination every year. These chilling figures speak to the need to give the FDA better and more accurate tools to effectively monitor the safety of our food imports and provide better protection for the future of all American families."
"After working with the State Department, we won approval for FDA inspectors to be permanently stationed in China," Congressman Mark Kirk said. "We are now working to ensure that they are joined by additional inspectors from the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Congress needs to complete legislation to increase the number of U.S. inspectors working overseas and to provide additional penalties for importers who bring unsafe products into the United States."
Our federal food safety laws, many of which were first enacted in the early 1900s, have not kept pace with the significant changes in demographics and food consumption patterns of Americans.
U.S. food imports have increased significantly in recent years, up nearly 300 percent over the last decade, exacerbating any potential security gaps. The FDA's process of border inspections and port screenings used to be much more effective. However, finished-product manufacturing is increasingly shifting to foreign markets, making the FDA's current screening system inadequate to the unique tasks and challenges of today under this new market reality.
Additionally, importers and private labs do not have to report all testing data, leaving the FDA in the dark when a shipment fails to meet U.S. standards. This missed opportunity denies the FDA the ability to collect data for its risk-based screening system. Most importantly, it leaves open the possibility a nefarious importer could "shop around" for a lab willing to give it favorable results to gain entry into the U.S.
"Closing this dangerous loophole is one step we can take toward a more secure food supply," continued Roskam. "Without updating our food safety laws for the 21st Century, the U.S. food supply will continue to be vulnerable to contamination. This legislation provides simple, common-sense solutions necessary to make sure the U.S. maintains one of the safest food supplies in the world."
Highlights of the Keeping America's Food Safe Act of 2008:
Close reporting loopholes and enhance the FDA's knowledge base of food imports
- Requires the Secretary of HHS to certify any private lab or sampling service that will collect data on imported food, which will gives us greater knowledge about the actors we are dealing with in the import industry.
- Private labs and sampling services would have to report any data from activities related to food imports to the Secretary, closing the current loophole that allows importers and private labs and sampling services to withhold unfavorable data from the FDA.
Establish significant penalties for violators of reporting requirements
- Importers and the private labs and sampling services would be subject to a $1M fine for knowingly falsifying or submitting false results or data.
Gain a fuller knowledge of the life-cycle of food imports
- Enables the Secretary to require foreign countries and foreign companies to become certified importers.
- The Secretary can waive the certification requirement by making a determination, documented for Congress, that the foreign entities maintain at least equivalent food safety standards with the U.S.
- By gaining assurances that imported food is being processed according to our own domestic requirements, we will know more about the total food cycle and import safety.
Establish a website to provide an information clearinghouse
- Directs the Secretary to work with USDA to provide information for consumers, industry, and health professionals that will foster increasing public awareness of food safety issues.
- Also directs the Secretary to work with the Secretary of Education to develop content appropriate for the curricula of the schools of the United States.
Provide protection for whistleblowers in the food import safety industry
- Protects those that bring to light deficiencies and safety threats in the food import process.
- Protecting those with such information is necessary to ensure our nation is ever vigilant in addressing the unique threat food imports can pose