Food safety czar pleads for Congress to take up proposal

While some government and industry officials had assumed FDA's plan to combat holes in the country's food safety system had been dismissed by Congress, it does appear one leading senator on the subject, who is also a Democrat, is giving it serious consideration.

FDA's food safety czar was exasperated Thursday that Congress hadn't moved to give the agency powers it sought in November. The proposal was meant to improve FDA's ability to police food, only to be told the ball is in HHS' court.

"We've been waiting on language from HHS for two-and-a-half months that would enact the proposals on the food protection plan into law," an aide for Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told David Acheson, FDA's food safety director at a Food and Drug Law Institute conference.

The aide called HHS when the plan came out to request specific language.

"Some of this stuff is not new. It's not rocket science. It's now out there as a formal proposal. Jump on it. Write the language. Drive it," Acheson pleaded in response.

FDA released the food protection plan in November in conjunction with an HHS plan to address gaps in the import system revealed by last year's recalls of Chinese pet food and toys.

The agency sought recall authority as well as the power to require prevention controls of risky products and to deny entry of food into the country if a foreign country or company denies FDA inspectors access.

"Those proposals that are in the plan are put together by people who really understand food safety," Acheson said.

Acheson said one of Durbin's leading food safety proposals, to create a single food safety agency, would create a "nightmare."

Instead, Acheson and Richard Raymond, director of the Agriculture Department's Food Safety and Inspection Service, suggested being given the resources and flexibility to implement food protection measures based on risk associated with types of food.

FSIS has been trying to implement a risk-based inspection approach for some time.

Durbin and House Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell, D-Mich., have introduced bills to charge import user fees to raise money for FDA inspections.

Some consumer groups came out against the user fee proposal and have pushed for food registration fees. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., is considering language to charge companies to register with FDA.

FDA requested in its food protection plan that Congress grant it the power to require food companies to register every other year instead of once -- as most do now under the Bioterrorism Act.

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