FDA's time is up for Obama safety law, rules judge

By Fiona Barry

- Last updated on GMT

President Barack Obama signs H.R. 2751, the Food Safety Modernization Act, in the Oval Office, January 4, 2011 (Picture Credit: White House/Pete Souza)
President Barack Obama signs H.R. 2751, the Food Safety Modernization Act, in the Oval Office, January 4, 2011 (Picture Credit: White House/Pete Souza)

Related tags: Fda, Food safety, United states congress, Food and drug administration

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been refused more time to enact the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), signed into law by President Obama in January 2011.

The sweeping act will shift safety focus from responding to food contamination to preventing it.

The US District Court for the Northern District of California ruled on August 13 against the FDA’s attempt to delay implementing the legislation.

Judge will not grant “extension after extension”

Judge Phyllis Hamilton, who refused to grant an extension to the existing 2014-2015 deadlines, stated: “The court understands the FDA’s position, and is in sympathy with it, but remains of the opinion that the dispute here is between the FDA and Congress.

This court is unwilling to grant extension after extension, or to permit the FDA to continually delay publication of this rule, in the face of the clear Congressional directive that this be a closed-end process.​”

The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act represents the most thorough reform of US food safety laws since the 1930s. It requires the FDA to establish science-based standards for safe food production and grants the FDA new enforcement and inspection powers, including the authority to suspend food plants and force recalls.

Lawsuit: “Millions of lives at risk”

The FDA missed the original July 2012 deadline set by US Congress for FSMA’s food safety rules to come into effect.

In a suit then filed by the Center for Food Safety (CFS), a federal court found in April 2013 that the FDA had violated the law by neglecting these deadlines.

CFS claimed during litigation “the agency’s unlawful delay is putting millions of lives at risk from contracting foodborne illnesses​”.

The lawsuit attacked the FDA for failing to implement “seven critical deadlines” regarding: 1) science-based preventative controls, 2) FDA powers to suspend food facilities, 3) standards for harvesting fruit and vegetables, 4) preventing intentional contamination, 5) hygienic transportation, 6) screening foreign imports, and 7) the neutrality of third-party audits.

The federal court ruled against the FDA and set new deadlines for FSMA’s targets, which the FDA moved to delay once again in July 2013.

The Center for Food Safety is known for using legal action to campaign for organic and sustainable agriculture. In 2013, CFS has filed lawsuits seeking to ban arsenic in animal feed, insecticides that endanger bees, and groundwater pollution from dairy factories.

Throughout litigation, the FDA has contended that the complexity of the issues and the workload and staff required have been hurdles to meeting statutory deadlines.

Without additional funding, FDA will be challenged in implementing the legislation fully without compromising other key functions. We look forward to working with Congress and our partners to ensure that FDA is funded sufficiently to achieve our food safety and food defense goals,​”said the FDA’s website.

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