(Aug. 21, 5:37 p.m.) House Agriculture Committee chairman Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said in mid-August he would like to move produce safety oversight functions from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

However, lobbyists and Capitol Hill sources say a more likely scenario will be the ascension food safety reform legislation that will maintain FDA oversight of fresh produce safety, but invest it with new powers and resources.

Peterson was quoted Aug. 17 in The Bemidji (Minn.) Pioneer newspaper that he wants produce safety oversight transferred from the FDA to the USDA.

“They’re not perfect, but they are a helluva lot better than the FDA,” he told the paper.

However, he acknowledged in the same interview that moving FDA jurisdiction from the House Energy and Commerce Committee to the Agriculture Committee was a political problem.

Meanwhile, House Energy and Commerce chairman John Dingell, D-Mich., plans to offer a second draft of his proposed legislation called the “Food and Drug Administration Globalization Act,” according to a Dingell spokesman.

The spokesman, speaking on anonymity, said Dingell was working with the industry to find consensus on the bill.

“It is a bipartisan bill and Mr. Dingell would like to get it done as soon as possible,” the Congressional staffer said.

Kathy Means, vice president of government relations and public relations for the Newark, Del-based Produce Marketing Association, said that the Dingell food safety legislation has some objectionable provisions concerning user fees and limitations of ports used for imports. However, Means said PMA is working with all members of Congress to provide industry input.

John McClung, president of the Mission-based Texas Produce Association, said his organization has been tracking the progress of food safety legislation with the help of the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association.

It remains too early for the industry to get behind any food safety bill, McClung said Aug. 20.

Besides food safety bills by Dingell and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., McClung said there may be at least a dozen others being developed in Congress.

“One realistically looks at the number of working days left on the Congressional calendar and it seems difficult to see how they will get much done this term, although there is talk about moving the Durbin bill in a hurry,” McClung said.

Recent foodborne outbreaks linked to tomatoes and peppers and recalls involving beef are fueling the urgency to act, McClung said. Still, he said the fresh produce industry was probably not far enough into the process to support any one particular bill.

“You have the Cardoza/Putnam bill that the industry has been kind of interested in but we’ll see where it goes,” he said.

Means said the Durbin and the Costa/Putnam bills have quite a few features the PMA favors.

McClung said the argument of Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Durbin for a single food agency may have strong appeal as a reform.

“People in the industry better not dismiss that too lightly, because that could be a very real consideration,” he said.