Using 15 pens, President Obama signed the long-awaited FDA Food Safety Modernization Act into law Tuesday evening.
The legislation, widely hailed as the most sweeping update to U.S. food safety law since the Great Depression, survived a constitutional slip-up, repeated filibuster threats, fierce debate over controversial amendments, and managed to advance amidst a jam-packed legislative agenda in one of the most productive Congresses in recent history. In the last 18 months, food safety legislation cleared the Senate twice and the House three times.
The legislative saga ended quietly Tuesday after the president returned from a family vacation in Hawaii. He signed the bill into law–along with a stack of others, including bills aimed at improving shark conservation, pedestrian safety, and science education–with no formal signing ceremony or statement.
Industry, public health, and consumer groups praised the signing.
Pam Bailey, president & CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, thanked the president for signing the bill to strengthen the U.S. food safety system.
“Today’s bill signing marks a historic moment for our country–as it represents the most comprehensive reform of our nation’s food safety laws in more than 70 years,” said Bailey in a statement. “This landmark legislation provides FDA with the resources and authorities the agency needs to help strengthen our nation’s food safety system by making prevention the focus of our food safety strategies, and will help restore the public’s faith in the safety and security of the food supply.”
“The food industry applauds Congress for the passage of historic food safety legislation and is grateful to the President for his signature today,” added GMA chairman of the board, chief executive officer of Del Monte Foods Richard Wolford. “I am proud of the food industry for its support of landmark food safety legislation and our efforts to protect consumers and provide them a safe food supply.”
As Food Safety News recently reported, supporters of the new law are gearing up to fight for the funding to implement the provisions in a contentious budgetary landscape.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), a longtime advocate of food safety reform and outgoing chair of the subcommittee that oversees FDA’s budget, pushed back against reports of GOP plans to block significant funding increases.
“It is disturbing that there will be an effort by Republicans to cut FDA funding and thus prevent this landmark new law from being implemented adequately,” said DeLauro in a statement Monday. “In the same week that Republicans announced their intention to cut FDA funding for the new food safety law, it was announced that a salmonella outbreak involving alfalfa sprouts had sickened nearly 100 people in at least 15 states. Without appropriate funding levels, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act would not be as effective in protecting our food supply and saving lives.”
Longtime proponent of the legislation, John Dingell (D-MI), echoed the call to fund the bill.
“This law is long overdue,” said Dingell, citing the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate on annual foodborne illnesses and deaths in the U.S. “Now we must take the next step to ensure that the new authorities are fully funded to ensure the FDA can do its work to protect the American people.”
The new law will give FDA expanded authority over approximately 80 percent of the food supply–not including USDA-regulated meat and poultry products–by giving the agency mandatory recall power and expanded access to food safety records. FDA will be required to increase the frequency of food facility inspections (currently a facility might be inspected once a decade). Growers and food manufacturers will also be required to implement food safety plans and foreign facilities importing food to the U.S. will have to meet the same standards.
Photos by White House photographer Pete Souza, via Obamafoodorama