Congress to FDA: Try again on food safety

Dozens of members of Congress have told the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that its proposed food safety rules could force businesses around the country to go out of business — and that it needs to try again.

"We believe the rules as currently proposed would result in a multitude of unintended consequences that would be severely detrimental to national, regional and local agriculture," 75 members of the House and Senate told the FDA in a letter released this week.

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"After hearing many reservations from our farmers and businesses, we are concerned that the rules as currently proposed, and the heavy cost of complying with them, will force some producers and processors to shutter their operations."

The letter, led by Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Reps. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.) and Annie Kuster (D-N.H.), said the FDA's proposed 1,200 pages of rules still leave open several questions for companies. These include how various facilities will come into compliance, and how to square the rules with environmental standards.

"Despite your agency's efforts to engage with stakeholders during the rulemaking process, we remain concerned about the ambiguity surrounding many aspects of these proposed rules," the letter said. "In order to improve the law's implementation, we are writing to request that the FDA propose and submit second proposed rules for public comment before issuing the final rules.

"By seeking additional input through second proposed rules for public comment before the final rules, we believe that producers' concerns can be addressed and unintended consequences can be greatly mitigated."

The rules are being proposed to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act, which President Obama signed into law in early 2011.

The FDA describes the law as the "most sweeping reform of our food safety laws in more than 70 years." The law is designed to help the FDA prevent food safety problems, by giving the agency the authority to set prevention standards in U.S.-based food processing entities, and require entities exporting food to the United States to meet these same standards.

The law lets the FDA order companies to recall food, requires more inspections for entities that pose higher risks and gives the FDA access to food safety records.