The US Congress will pass legislation to overhaul its outdated food safety system in 2010, a leading lawmaker predicted yesterday.
Representative Rosa DeLauro forecast the law would overcome the Senate’s legislative log-jam caused by the healthcare and financial regulatory reform and be approved by President Obama by the end of the year.
A further law examining how meat and poultry are inspected may follow in the wake of the food safety revamp, said the Connecticut Congresswoman, adding the measure could create problems with trade partners.
"I have every confidence that we are going to pass food safety legislation and this legislation is going to get to the president for a signature and that that's going to happen this year," DeLauro told Reuters.
Health more important than trade
The food safety bill – the first reform of the beleaguered US system in half a century - has also been held up by the US Trade Representative's office. The body wants to ensure reforms do not breach existing trade agreements.
But DeLauro appeared to be getting impatient with the delay, saying: “Trade should never trump public health.”
The House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee will hold hearings between now and the summer to discuss whether new trade agreements negotiated by the United States should include food safety provisions, said DeLauro, who chairs the influential group.
"We need to do something before the agreement is put into place that guarantees that the product and its process and its manufacture is equal to the process that exists in the United States," she said.
DeLauro said yesterday that the role of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) needs to be scrutinised. The body, which co-ordinates the inspection of meat, poultry and eggs, should be assessed by an independent expert panel on whether reform of its food safety duties was necessary. She added one issue that could be examined is the potential conflict faced by the USDA, which promotes as well regulates food.
Overlapping responsibilities between agencies needs to be urgently addressed, she said.
“You've got the salami scare, and it may be the peppers in the salami (that are contaminated), but USDA does the salami and FDA does the peppers," said DeLauro.
"It is madness to think this is the way we ought to do business."