TUESDAY, Jan. 4 (HealthDay News) -- President Barack Obama was
expected to sign Tuesday sweeping new legislation that gives the
U.S. Food and Drug Administration unprecedented powers to keep the
nation's food supply safe.
The Food Safety Modernization Act, first passed by the Senate
and then the House of Representatives last month, represents the
first significant strengthening of the nation's food safety laws
since the 1930s, and follows a string of outbreaks of food-borne
illnesses stemming from tainted eggs, peanuts, spinach and other
"The Food Safety Modernization Act is the most significant food safety law of the last 100 years," Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said during a Monday afternoon press conference.
"It will bring our food safety system into the 21st century, improving health, saving lives and helping Americans feel confident that when they sit down at their dinner table they won't end up in the hospital," she said.
Added Food and Drug Commissioner Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg: "In
passing the Food Safety Modernization Act, Congress has addressed a
significant public health problem facing our nation today --
food-borne illness. This law puts necessary and renewed emphasis on
prevention, and makes prevention the responsibility of every
participant in the food supply chain -- from farm to table."
The overhaul gives the FDA authority to protect the food supply,
rather than simply react to breakdowns in the supply chain, as the
agency has done in the past. It will affect all whole and processed
foods, with the exception of meat, poultry and eggs, according to
Under the auspices of the $1.4 billion bill, the government will
be able to inspect processing plants, order recalls and set
stricter standards for imported foods. Larger farms and food
manufacturers will have to prepare detailed food-safety plans and
tell the FDA how they will be implemented at different stages of
The bill exempts small farmers and food processors, and growers
who sell directly to the public at farm stands, because of concerns
that smaller food suppliers can't afford the testing and
record-keeping that the bill requires.
Other highlights of the bill:
- The FDA must gradually implement more frequent inspections in
the United States and overseas. Eventually, high-risk facilities
will be inspected every three years.
- The FDA will be able to order -- rather than simply request --
food recalls when it is evident that contaminated food poses a
- The law enables the agency to set national standards for
growing and harvesting produce.
But the money to implement the new legislation isn't guaranteed.
Some conservative lawmakers have said they're concerned about the
cost at a time when cutting federal spending is becoming an
increasing priority. Supporters of the new law, which has
bipartisan backing, said they intend to push Congress for full
Food-safety advocates hailed the move when the bill passed the
House of Representatives last month.
"This win is a powerful testament to the people across the country who came to Washington to tell their lawmakers how contaminated food had killed their loved ones or left them horribly sick," said Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives at Consumers Union. "This win is for them and all Americans."
Commenting last month on House passage of the bill, Patty
Lovera, assistant director for Food & Water Watch, said, "We
look at it as an important first step."
Noting that implementation of important provisions will happen
over the next several years and require increased funding for the
FDA, Lovera said, "That's a whole other set of work we have to
As for the bill's effect on food safety, Lovera said that
remains to be seen. "But it could have a significant impact," she
said. "It's going to take a while to kick in, but it is important
One in six Americans gets sick from tainted food every year, and
about 3,000 die from those illnesses, according to estimates from
the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For more on food safety, visit the
of Health and Human Services.