Bill targets 'bad actors' in U.S. food industry

  • Article by: BILL MCAULIFFE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 12, 2010 - 9:54 PM

Food safety bill broadens FDA authority, aims to streamline fight against foodborne illnesses.

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U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.

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A bill aimed at busting "bad actors" among the nation's food producers and at establishing a Minnesota-style model for tracing the sources of foodborne illnesses could pass the U.S. Senate within weeks, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said Sunday.

The bill would give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration the ability to order mandatory recalls of food when a producer refuses to adhere to an FDA order. It would also increase FDA inspections at all food facilities and establish five regional centers where the Centers for Disease Control would work with local public health agencies to combat foodborne illnesses.

Klobuchar, a co-sponsor of the bill, spoke Sunday at a Cub Foods store in Maple Grove, along with top executives from SuperValu and Hormel and a University of Minnesota public health professor, all of whom consulted on the bill. Craig Herkert, president and CEO of Supervalu, Cub's parent company, said passage "is in the best interest of all Americans."

A similar bill has passed the House, but the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act stalled in the Senate while that body dealt with health care, financial reform and other issues. But in the aftermath of the recent egg recall, the bill has gained support, and President Obama is expected to sign it, Klobuchar said.

According to the CDC, tainted food generates 76 million reported illnesses and 5,000 deaths in the United States each year, along with 325,000 hospitalizations. The national pricetag in health care and lost productivity is 44 billion.

Increases in food importation, loss of coordination among states and advances in scientific detection have outstripped the government's ability to keep up with foodborne diseases and their causes, Klobuchar said. The bill is aimed primarily at strengthening the FDA, which oversees everything other than meat in the nation's food supply. Meat is monitored by the USDA. Klobuchar said Cargill, a major meat producer whose efforts to track emerging and unregulated varieties of E. coli were documented in the Star Tribune Sunday, has also supported the bill.

The regional "rapid-response" approach to foodborne illnesses would build on the strategy by which the state Department of Health and the University of Minnesota were able to track the sources of national outbreaks to tainted peanut butter and jalapeño peppers. Nine people in the United States, including three in Minnesota, died from eating tainted peanut butter in 2008-09.

Bill McAuliffe • 612-673-7646

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