Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Reps. Lynn Rivers (D-Mich.) and Dianna DeGette (D-Colo.) introduced the SAFER Meat, Poultry and Food Act of 2002. The legislation improves the ability of USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service and the Department of Health and Human Service's Food and Drug Administration to enforce food safety regulations and remove contaminated food from the market.
"Report after report gives us the same result, our food safety laws are not being effectively enforced. USDA and FDA need to do a much better job on enforcement, and they need better enforcement tools," says Harkin. "When a recall is necessary to get contaminated food off store shelves, companies should have to comply, period. It is not the time to have a fight about who is in charge."
“This bill requires anyone in the production or distribution chain who learns of a public health threat to immediately notify the USDA and FDA," adds Rivers.
"It is inexcusable that as many as 76 million people in the U.S. suffer foodborne illnesses each year, resulting in 5,000 fatalities," says DeGette. "USDA's response to the recent E. coli outbreak has been fraught with confusion, a lack of communication and inexplicable delays.Giving the USDA and FDA the authority to force a recall is a good first step in addressing these problems."
The legislation would provide three additional tools for both USDA and FDA:
- The authority to mandate that a company recall unsafe meat and poultry products,
- The requirement that companies notify USDA or DHHS if they know that a product is adulterated, and
- The authority to levy civil fines for violations of food safety laws.
An August 2000 General Accounting Office study requested by Harkin and Rivers documented several instances where companies refused or delayed complying with recall requests. Providing for civil penalties would allow USDA and FDA to implement a system of fines for companies that violate food safety requirements.
Currently USDA's main enforcement option is to shut a plant down. FDA has to drag an offending company into federal court, a process that can take months to years. A system of civil penalties would allow USDA and FDA to address companies that have repeated food safety violations with graduated enforcement targeted to the severity of the violation.
Additionally, the bill would require all companies and distributors throughout the food processing system to notify USDA or FDA if they have knowledge that meat or poultry products are adulterated.