This week, U.S. House committees worked on at least one food safety bill. And agricultural groups managed to null one potent feature of the "Food Safety and Enhancement Act of 2009," H.R. 2749.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved an amendment that exempts livestock and poultry farms from a provision that expands the Food and Drug Administration's authority over food producers. It would allow FDA to conduct on-farm inspections, quarantine geographic areas over food-safety problems, create a tracing system for all food and require additional records to be kept. The provision would still apply to the grain side of diversified livestock and grain operations.
National Pork Producers Council pointed out that USDA already can quarantine animals when a state asks it to for animal health reasons. The ag department also has an animal identification system that can trace back an animal to its farm of origin. NPPC also noted that farmers keep records according to state laws and industry programs and that complying with FDA record-keeping requirements would necessitate them overhauling their current record-keeping systems.
Issues still boiling
"They recognized that USDA has sufficient authority and the expertise to oversee livestock and poultry operations," notes NPPC President Don Butler. "But we still have some issues with the bill."
What remains unclear is whether the bill, for example, would allow FDA to conduct an on-farm inspection of or quarantine the livestock side of a diversified operation that has a food-safety issue with the grain side of its business.
Potent amendments are always a risk. During Thursday's session, for instance, Rep. Janice Schakowsky, D-Ill., offered an amendment to ban use of certain antibiotics in livestock. Although the amendment was withdrawn, the move could be a harbinger of future efforts to include an antibiotics ban in legislation.
H.R. 2749 still must be considered by the full House. Meanwhile, U.S. Senate committees are working on their own food safety bills.