November 16, 2009
By David Gutierrez
A bill that would grant the FDA expanded authority to inspect farms has come under fire from ranchers and farmers concerned about increased government interference in their operations.
In response to a recent series of food-borne illness outbreaks, a bill has been approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee that would allocate more money and authority to the FDA to fulfill its current food safety duties. Although technically the bill would not expand the FDA’s authority to foods currently supervised by the Department of Agriculture (USDA) – meat, poultry and some egg products – many farmers and their advocates are concerned that the language of the bill is too vague to ensure against this.
“Live animals are not ‘food’ until the point of processing, which is why this bill needs to clarify that the FDA does not have regulatory authority on our farms, ranches and feedlots,” said Sam Ives of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
Even though the USDA has been involved in several recent recalls of beef products, its inspection procedures are usually considered stricter than the FDA’s, and the agency’s inspection program is also better funded. This has spared the USDA the criticism the FDA has faced after recent recalls of peanut butter, hot peppers and spinach.
FDA Senior Adviser on Food Safety Mike Taylor said that the agency already inspects some farms as part of its duties to supervise egg, vegetable and animal feed production. He noted that the FDA and the USDA have also cooperated in the past, such as on the issue of mad cow disease, and promised that the law will not change any agency’s jurisdiction. Not everyone was reassured, however.
“We are a little skeptical of FDA,” said Rep. Collin Peterson, Chair of the House Agricultural Committee. “We are very concerned about them getting involved in grain farms, livestock farms.”