Food Industry: Give FDA New Recall Power
March 3, 2008
With grocery stores pulling tons of tainted meat out of their freezers, a food industry spokesman urged Congress to radically strengthen food regulators'' powers, the Associated Press reported recently.
The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee for Oversight put food companies in the hot seat a little over a week after the largest meat recall in U.S. history.
Grocery Manufacturers Association Vice President Robert Brackett chided both the Bush administration and Congress for not giving the Food and Drug Administration more funding to inspect food safety at company plants.
In an unusual move for an industry spokesman, Brackett also urged Congress to give FDA the authority to order a company to recall tainted food if the company does not volunteer. Currently the agency works with producers to organize voluntary recalls.
The association''s members include ConAgra Foods Inc., Kraft Foods Inc. and Nestle USA Inc.
Democratic lawmakers have already drafted proposals to give FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture power to order such actions. FDA regulates processed food whereas the Agriculture department oversees livestock and poultry.
Government regulators only learned of the problems that led to the Feb. 17 Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. recall after the U.S. Humane Society exposed video of conditions at the company''s Chino-based slaughterhouse.
The video showed workers kicking and shoving sick and crippled cows and forcing them to stand with electric prods, forklifts and water hoses.
The company''s CEO Steve Mendell was invited to speak at the hearing but did not appear. Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell, D-Mich., said the committee would consider issuing a subpoena to order Mendell''s appearance.
Lawmakers pressed CEOs of companies hit by recent recalls on what they are doing to keep tainted, unsafe products out of the nation''s food supply. The companies included: ConAgra Foods, Dole Food Company, Bumble Bee Foods, New Era Canning Co.
ConAgra''s Chief Executive Gary Rodkin told lawmakers his company has invested millions of dollars modernizing its food safety controls after two salmonella-related recalls last year.
In October, ConAgra recalled its Banquet pot pies, which were linked to at least 270 cases of salmonella. Before that the Omaha, Neb.-based company recalled its Peter Pan brand peanut butter, which was eventually linked to at least 625 salmonella cases.
After repeated questioning from Rep. Degette, Rodkin said he supports "mandatory recall for any company not cooperating," with regulators. But he stopped short of supporting unequivocal government power to order recalls.