Kathleen Sebelius

FDA begins implementing sweeping food-safety law

by Brady Dennis, The Washington Post  |  published on January 5, 2013

The Obama administration, moving ahead with the first major revamping of the nation’s food-safety system in more than 70 years, Friday proposed requiring that the produce industry meet new safety standards and food manufacturers craft detailed plans to ensure their products are safe to eat.

The proposed rules stem from landmark food-safety legislation that President Obama signed into law two years ago. Many lawmakers, consumer advocates and industry officials say it has taken far too long to implement the law.

The law focuses on the 80 percent of the food supply overseen by the Food and Drug Administration, including produce, dairy and seafood. Beef, poultry and some egg products are regulated by the Department of Agriculture. The legislation’s primary aim was to give the FDA the tools necessary to prevent outbreaks that sicken or kill Americans, rather than simply reacting after tainted food had reached consumers.

The law gave the FDA broad new powers, including the ability to force companies to recall products and the authority to examine internal records at farms and food-production plants. It calls on the FDA to increase inspections, particularly at “high risk” facilities prone to contamination, and to hire about 2,000 new inspectors. It also requires that food shipped from overseas comply with U.S. safety standards.

“The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act is a common sense law that shifts the food safety focus from reactive to preventive,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement Friday.

The proposed regulations released Friday focus on two key portions of the broader legislation, but FDA officials and consumer advocates say the rules are essential to laying the groundwork for the first major revamp of the country’s food safety system since 1938.

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