Food safety issues may not be the main entrée on Congress’ plate this year, but a handful of issues may be addressed. Here are a few of things the Consumer Federation of America will be watching this year.
Food safety funding: The one issue that will certainly be addressed by Congress is funding for federal food safety agencies, particularly the Food and Drug Administration and the Food Safety and Inspection Service. Both agencies play essential roles in protecting consumers from foodborne illness and need to be adequately funded. The Obama Administration proposed a substantial increase for FDA food safety funding which consumer groups applauded, but it remains to be seen what Congress will do.
International trade agreements: Public interest groups have raised concerns that international trade deals currently being negotiated by the Administration will have negative impacts on food safety and weaken consumer protections. Further, outside groups have limited insight into the substance of the deals as most of the negotiation is done in secret. Congress will likely be considering Trade Promotion Authority, which would give the President the ability to negotiate trade deals, but prevents lawmakers from shaping the details of those deals.
Regulatory reform legislation: Consumer groups are strongly opposed to efforts in Congress to “reform” the regulatory process because such efforts would severely hamper important protections on which consumers depend. Food safety regulations are critical for public health and have been successful in reducing contamination of food products. “Reform” efforts would jeopardize that progress.
Country of origin labeling: Consumer groups strongly support country of origin labeling (COOL) and have urged Congress to reject efforts to repeal, rescind or weaken COOL. The United States is appealing a World Trade Organization decision on COOL and until that process is complete, there is no reason for Congress to intervene.
GMO labeling: The debate over the labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is turning towards Congress with dueling bills (introduced in a previous Congress and likely to be introduced again) that would either mandate GMO labeling or prohibit labeling while blocking action by states. CFA and many other groups have supported GMO labeling because consumers have a right to know what is in their food.
Food Safety Modernization Act: Since Congress passed FSMA with bipartisan support in 2010, the Food and Drug Administration has been hard at work developing regulations to implement the law. The new regulations would better protect consumers from foodborne illness by establishing reasonable food safety requirements for food processors, food producers and food importers. Final regulations are expected to be released later this year. Consumer groups will strongly resist any efforts to delay or halt FDA’s progress.
Single food safety agency: Senator Durbin and Congresswoman DeLauro recently introduced the Safe Food Act of 2015, which would consolidate federal food safety activities into one independent single food safety agency. The legislation is a strong vision for moving forward to improving our food safety regulatory system. The Obama Administration proposed, as part of the FY16 budget, consolidating food safety activities into a single agency within the Department of Health and Human Services. CFA opposed this move based on concerns that HHS is too big of a Department with too many competing priorities for a food safety agency to get sufficient attention. In addition, FDA is poised to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act and adding meat and poultry inspection would jeopardize successful implementation of that important law.