The Senate unanimously adopted a bill late last week to stiffen the criminal penalties for companies that knowingly violate food safety laws.

The bill, authored by Judiciary Commmittee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), increases the penalty for knowingly distributing contaminated or misbranded food from a misdemeanor to a felony and allows prosecutors to seek up to 10 year sentences for such offenses.

Leahy’s committee unanimously approved the bill last September and again in March, after the criminal penalties language was not included in the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act signed into law by President Obama in January.
“Food safety received considerable attention last year, and I was pleased that Congress finally passed comprehensive food safety reforms.  But our work is not done,” said Leahy in a statement.  “On behalf of the hundreds of individuals sickened by recent salmonella outbreaks, I urge the House to quickly pass the Food Safety Accountability Act and join the Senate in continuing to improve our food safety system.”

Leahy has been pressing for tougher food safety penalties in the wake of the 2008-09 Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) Salmonella outbreak that sickened hundreds and killed nine.
Stewart Parnell, president of PCA, declined to testify before Congress about the contamination after emails indicated he knowingly shipped contaminated product into commerce. Parnell cited his Fifth Amendment rights when he appeared before the House Energy Commerce Committee in February 2009.

In February, Sen. Leahy pressed Department of Justice inquiring about the status of the department’s PCA investigation.

One of Leahy’s constituents, a 7-year-old boy from South Burlington, Vermont was seriously sickened in the outbreak. The boy’s mother, Gabrielle Meunier, has become a fierce advocate for stronger food safety laws, prompting Leahy to invite her to testify last year before the Senate Agriculture Committee about her son’s illness.

  • Gabrielle Meunier

    Let’s hope that the House can pass their version of the Bill so that we can have a signed Bill this year.

  • dangermaus

    This sounds great until you think about the differences between big agribusiness outfits and the little guys. Say there’s a contaminated meat outbreak, and non-compliant sanitary conditions are found to be responsible.
    If the responsible party is a big corporation with hundreds or thousands of employees, you’d never be able to find any single person upon which to place responsibly, and the FDA/DoA would have to take on their tremendous legal resources (not to mention political cronies from whom they may have favors coming). If the responsible party was a family farmer who slaughtered a chicken for a single customer, he’d have no such protection.

  • Doc Mudd

    But dangermaus, throughout the S.510 debate you often asserted that a local farmer will be in perfect control of his/her situation, thus negating any risk of knowingly injuring a consumer. No need for regulatory oversight. So, no risk in a perfectly level playing field with this accountability legislation.
    If Tyson poisons me or if you do, I should be made whole.
    Just make darned sure you don’t deliberately sell me crap and I won’t wind up living on your-former-now-my quaint hobby farm and driving your-former-now-my new pickup to church. Entrepreneurship brings with it accountability. Cheer up – they sell insurance to help with that.

  • Hi Gabrielle, the summit is put on by BNP media, primarily for food safety professionals. Here’s more information: Thanks!

  • ICBM

    Muddying the waters again, eh Doc? NO ONE expects perfect control of ANY safety situation, food or otherwise — that’s the risk we take when we get up in the morning — assuming a tornado didn’t blow you away overnight.
    Looking at risk, the faceless industrial model corporations just might deliberately sell you crap a la Peanut Corp of America, however — or because the corporate structure is so convoluted and top heavy and INDUSTRIAL — that things easily fall through the cracks. Plus, there’s a much greater risk when food is co-mingled, as when, like the spinach it’s processed in batches and shipped around the country in little microbe-breeder bags, stamped with a 17 day shelf life.
    The FSMA purposefully puts Facilities under greater scrutiny than Farms because of the processing involved.
    Like other commenters have expressed on FSN — I’m happy to take my chances where there’s less risk — from small farmers who are eating the same (FRESH) food themselves that they sell to others. Finally, typifying salt-of-the-earth, hard-working small farmers as “hobby farms” says way more about you as the source than those you wish to depict so negatively….

  • Hi Gabrielle, the summit is put on by BNP media, primarily for food safety professionals. Here’s more information: Thanks!

  • Doc Mudd

    Sure, some hobby farm profiteers are “salt-of-the-earth, hard-working” and some are ‘scum of the cesspit, fast talking’ – just visit a farmers market or two:—except-when-it-is-not-the-food-they-grew/
    My family no longer purchases food from farmers market tycoons. Too damned risky, shifty and overpriced.
    But for those families who do purchase at these flea markets this new accountability legislation (if it passes) could finally motivate the itinerant food seller to have a care for the safety of the dubious crap he/she is hawking.
    Just remember to get a receipt from that colorful salt-of-the-earth hobby farmer who’s just given you a line of talk and taken your grocery money. And keep the phone number of your local health department handy.

  • dangermaus

    They don’t sell insurance against a criminal penalty, Mudd, which is what the bill and the article is about. Additionally, I’ve never said anyone has perfect control over anything – how ridiculous would that be? I did say, and I’d say again, that a family farmer has a very large degree of control over the operations of his farm, whereas an entity like ConAgra which is run by a board of directors has, by necessity, a brain that’s separated from its hands by several layers of management.
    Seriously, Mudd… Why do you intentionally use such obviously slanted, misleading things like “farmers market tycoons” and “Compost is basically rotten trash”. I’m pretty confident that no one is buying into that argument, as most regular posters on this site seem to do nothing but make fun of you, but I’m really curious about what motivates you to be so bitterly cynical in your blind support of industrial food production.