Since President Barack Obama has taken office, change has been abundant. Between his proposed healthcare reform, new strategy for the war in the Middle East and his views on funding for higher education, it seems there is little the president wants to remain status quo.
Members of Congress have recently seen two separate pieces of legislation that could profoundly affect the feed and grain industry. One deals with food and feed safety and the other pertains to climate change and cap and trade. Although the implications of each bill are different, their impact could be equally great. The American Feed Industry Association and National Grain and Feed Association weigh in on how these bills could negatively or positively impact feed and grain businesses across America.
Concern over the food and feed safety bill
On July 29 the House of Representatives approved a bill (H.R. 2749) that includes many proposed changes to the nation’s food and feed safety laws. The bill’s intent, in addition to enhancing food safety, is to improve inspections, testing and the traceability of America’s food supply to help isolate the culprit of food illnesses and recalls. H.R. 2749 would mandate broad new authorities and fees for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The Senate’s version of the bill, S. 510, was introduced by author Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) in March, and reflects considerable effort on his part to meet the needs of the feed industry. This version of the bill will be voted on later this year or in 2010.
The AFIA worked diligently with members of the House and the Senate, including Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) — author of the House bill — and Sen. Durbin, to improve these bills before a final version is signed into law.
Policy Directions’ executive vice president Steve Kopperud, AFIA’s government affairs consultant, explains some of the AFIA’s main concerns, and sheds light on the association’s progress.
“The bill’s underlying legislation, the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, defines food as anything fed to man or animal,” says Kopperud. “AFIA wants to ensure that any new regulations regarding food labeling and allergens, which are legitimate concerns on the human side, aren’t arbitrarily or unnecessarily imposed on the feed and pet food industries."
The feed industry could be inappropriately regulated because both bills are predicated on the creation of risk-based plans for risk management. Both the House and Senate bills, for instance, list examples of what could be incorporated in a facility’s risk-based plan, including the control of allergens, cleanliness of stainless steel surfaces and recommendations on employee hand washing.
“Those types of safeguards are absolutely critical, and make clear sense in a human food-processing plant, but they generally have little application in an animal feed production plant,” says Kopperud. “This becomes our No. 1 concern. We do not believe the feed industry should be regulated unnecessarily under umbrella legislative language not intended to cover the feed industry or unjustifiably includes the feed industry.”
Another concern for AFIA is the notion that the FDA will designate tiers of risk for each production facility; however, it is not yet clear how the tiers will be determined, or what criteria will be used to assess a plant’s risk level.
“The House bill is somewhat problematic for us because it gives the secretary and the commissioner [of the FDA] discretion to set categories of risk, such as high risk, intermediate risk and low risk,” says Kopperud. “It would seem obvious to insiders of the industry that a feed plant, on the scheme of human food safety, would be one of the lowest-risk facilities that you could come across, but the House bill doesn’t make it as obvious as we would like.”
Until the criteria for establishing risk categories are clearly set, and feed plants are given appropriate designation, Kopperud says AFIA will work to ensure that the bill would not require feed facilities to endure additional FDA inspections.