Wall Street Journal
By Jane Zhang
June 10, 2009
The House took the first step toward passing legislation aimed at plugging holes in the nation’s food-safety system, after lawmakers reached a compromise over user fees and other requirements.
The legislation would boost the authority and funding of the Food and Drug Administration. It would impose a $500 annual registration fee on every food facility to increase funds for the FDA’s food-safety operations, and would require the food industry to make it easier for the FDA to track tainted products.
The measure cleared the Energy and Commerce Committee’s health subcommittee Wednesday on a unanimous voice vote. Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D., Calif.) said the full committee will likely vote on it next Wednesday.
To win support of Republicans and the food industry, Democrats agreed to halve the registration fee to $500 and add a cap so no single company would be charged more than $175,000. The industry, which has argued that using the fees expressly to pay for inspections could create a conflict of interest, will have a say—through public hearings—on how the FDA should spend the money. And instead of imposing a sweeping record-keeping requirement, Democrats agreed to ask the FDA to first study how the industry should maintain records, and the costs and benefits associated with it.
"Serious, substantive progress has been made," said Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, the Energy and Commerce Committee’s ranking Republican. Still, he said, Republicans will work to change some provisions of the legislation.
The bill doesn’t address meat, poultry, dairy and eggs, which are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Food-safety legislation has also been introduced in the Senate. It is unclear when senators might take up their bill, which has bipartisan support.
Write to Jane Zhang at Jane.Zhang@wsj.com