U.S. Senator Herb Kohl today voted in favor of the bipartisan Food Safety Modernization Act, which passed the Senate by a 73 to 25 vote. The legislation includes a provision championed by Kohl that allows the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to refuse imported food from a foreign facility that does not allow U.S. inspectors into the country to inspect a facility within 48 hours of a request to enter. Kohl is the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over funding for the FDA, and in 2007 launched a broad review of the nation's web of food safety laws to identify weaknesses. Subsequently, Kohl has worked to increase the FDA's corps of food safety inspectors domestically and abroad and developed new, regional rapid response teams across the country to identify and isolate contaminated produce at its source.
The Food Safety and Modernization Act contains a number of provisions that will protect consumers, as well as small food producers and processors. In addition to Kohl's initiative to address the rapidly increasing amount of imported food on U.S. tables, the bill also included an amendment sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) exempt some small farmers from regulations under the legislation. Other key provision in the bill include:
· Providing the Food and Drug Administration mandatory recall authority for the first time;
· Establishing science-based minimum safety standards for fruit and vegetable production;
· Requiring that imported food meet the same safety standards as food produced in the United States and increasing the frequency of foreign inspections;
· Basing inspection frequency of FDA inspected food processing facilities on the risk of the product being produced; and
· Requiring food processors to identify where food contamination may occur in the production process and requiring them to take steps to prevent contamination.
"For years we have been working to strengthen the FDA's food safety work, enabling them to hire more inspectors, provide greater scrutiny of imports and bolster research. But as much as we worked to fortify the FDA's arsenal, our antiquated food safety laws simply didn't reflect a world in which many food products travel halfway around the world before ending up on our grocery shelves. This bill will help keep our food supply more secure and reduce the risk of food-borne illness for consumers," Kohl said.
Earlier this year in a report commissioned by Kohl, the Institutes of Medicine (IOM) noted that the FDA is responsible for overseeing approximately 80% of the U.S. food supply, including all produce, seafood and cheeses. The report states that food-borne diseases caused by bacteria such as E. Coli or Salmonella, in addition to viruses, parasites and chemicals, lead to 76 million food-borne illnesses each year in the United States. Of those cases, serious illnesses lead to 300,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths. The IOM report also calls on the FDA to continue to integrate food safety inspection and surveillance programs between the state and federal government, something Kohl initiated several years ago.
Kohl has also worked with the President's Food Safety Working Group, the interagency group tasked with overhauling the food safety system.