Obama Signs Major Food Safety Law

January 4, 2011 Updated: January 4, 2011

President Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) into law on Tuesday, Jan, 4. The biggest change in food safety laws since 1938, FSMA gives the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) new authority.

The FDA will be able to issue a mandatory recall of contaminated food, which it did not have the power to do before this bill.

“Each year, foodborne illness strikes 48 million Americans, hospitalizing a hundred thousand and killing thousands,” said Margaret Hamburg, M.D., the Commissioner of Food and Drugs. She wrote on the White House blog, “I thank the President and members of Congress for recognizing that the burden that foodborne illness places on the American people is too great, and for taking this action.”

The new law also gives the FDA stronger enforcement powers over importers. “Among the improvements is the requirement that importers verify the safety of food from their suppliers and the authority for the FDA to block foods from facilities or countries that refuse our inspection," reads Hamburg’s statement. "FDA will also be working more closely with foreign governments and increasing its inspection of foreign food facilities.”

The passage of the law did meet with some opposition. Last month the bill passed the Senate with 79 votes for and 16 against; and the House with 193 votes for and 165 against.

Rep. Jack Kingston, (R-Ga.) voted against the bill. He is likely to chair the committee which oversees food safety in the 112th Congress. Bloomberg quoted him as saying, “While it’s a great re-election tool to terrify people into thinking that the food they’re eating is unsafe and unsanitary, and if not for the wonderful nanny-state politicians we’d be getting sick after every meal, the system we have is doing a darn good job.”

The Congressional Budget Office calculated that implementing the inspections and other processes the law requires might cost $1.4 billion over the coming five years. Legislators may not be willing to allocate the funds to support it.