(July 23) Momentum is mounting to enact a legislative fix to the food safety problem, but a spokesperson for the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas wonders if one proposed solution is equitable for imports.

On July 11, Reps. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, and Jim Langevin, D-R.I., introduced a bill that would require the Secretary of Agriculture and the Commissioner of Food and Drugs to establish a program requiring a certificate of assured safety for imported food items.

Sebastian Cianci, spokesman for the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said July 18 the agency would have no comment on pending legislation.

President Bush also was getting involved in the food safety debate in mid-July.

On July 18, Bush announced the formation of a working group on imported food safety. The group will be headed by Mike Leavitt, Secretary of Health and Human Services, and is charged to report to the President with recommendations in 60 days.

CERTIFICATE REQUIRED

Kaptur’s bill, called the Assured Food Safety Act of 2007, was referred to the Energy and Commerce Committee, in addition to the House Agriculture and Ways and Means committees.

Under the bill’s language, the USDA and FDA would establish a program to require all food items imported into the U.S. to bear a certificate of assured safety issued by the government of the country from which the item is imported.

The program would establish requirements for the certificate and prohibit a food item that does not bear a certificate of assured safety from being imported into the U.S. The bill would also require a new user fee for food imports.

FAIRNESS QUESTIONED

The legislation appears to be redundant with current law, said Allison Moore, communications manager for the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, Nogales, Ariz. She also raised issues with the fairness of the certification system and the user fees.

“When you look at imports now, by importing into the country, you are saying you are not sending any adulterated food; that’s something that already exists,” she said.

Moore said if there is a clear new standard for food safety, it should apply both to imports and domestic food equally.

Beyond the certification issue, Moore said food safety fees must be equal between domestic and imported food.

“You have to find a way to have an equitable charge for domestic growers,” she said.

More than symbolic legislation, Congress needs to focus on organizing and funding FDA to meet their food safety responsibilities, she said.