Food Safety Bills Differ on Traceability

The House and Senate differ on food safety traceability approaches.

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A key difference is how the bills approach traceability, which will affect the changes required by industry. The House bill directs the FDA to establish a tracing system requiring manufacturers and handlers of food to maintain "a full pedigree" of the origin and previous history of the food; link that history with the subsequent distribution of the food; establish and maintain a system for tracing food that is interoperable with the systems established and maintained by other such persons, and use a unique identifier for each facility.

S. 510 instead requires the FDA to launch at least two pilot studies, one for the processed food industry and the one for the fresh produce industry, each with the aim of developing and demonstrating methods for rapid and effective tracking and tracing of foods in a manner that is practicable for facilities of varying sizes, including small businesses, and developing and demonstrating appropriate technologies to be used. The goal was to establish a product-tracing system within the FDA to receive information that improves the capacity of the Secretary of Health and Human Services "to effectively and rapidly track and trace food that is in the U.S. or offered for import into the U.S."

Legislation stalled as it came under fire from owners of small farms and local food producers. Senators agreed to exempt some of those operations from costly food safety plans required of bigger companies, rankling food safety advocates and larger growers, but gaining support from farm-state senators. Some processor fees were eliminated and the number of required inspections were decreased in order to gain votes in the Senate and to make the bill more palatable in the U.S. House of Representatives.

"Today's vote will finally give the FDA the tools it needs to help ensure that the food on dinner tables and store shelves is safe," said Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), who introduced the bill more than two years ago. "This bill will have a dramatic impact on the way the FDA operates, providing it with more resources for inspection, mandatory recall authority, and the technology to trace an outbreak back to its source. I am proud of the work we have done, but our vigilance must continue."

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