Food processors would be charged a yearly fee of $500 and face tighter government scrutiny under a bill passed by a House panel this week. Originally the proposed fee was set at $1000, but leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee agreed to halve it. Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said the money will provide the Food and Drug Administration with a much-needed infusion of resources to keep the food supply safe.
The legislation would require processors and growers to meet standards aimed at preventing contamination of foods and would increase inspections of processors. The FDA regulates 80% of the nation's food supply but has less authority and a smaller food safety budget than the USDA, which regulates only meat and poultry.
Critics say the rules could be a burden on farms and small processors. The National Farmers Union said in a letter to the committee that a punitive approach for traceability, penalties, inspections and other measures could hurt growers without improving food safety.
The National Cattlemen's Beef Association agrees saying the bill would pose a myriad of unintended consequences especially for the meat industry.
Among other things, the bill would authorize the Food and Drug Administration to conduct on-farm inspections, undermining USDA's regulatory authority in ensuring the safety of meat and poultry products. Kristina Butts, NCBA manager of legislative affairs, said any changes to the present system should be carefully considered to ensure they provide additional benefits without detracting from successful processes.
In addition, the bill would require FDA to create a tracing system for the complete pedigree of all food, including meat which is not regulated by the FDA. NCBA says this type of on-farm system would increase production and technology costs for cattle producers and would be overly burdensome for both producers and the FDA.