Recall procedures must be addressed to protect truckers

| 9/28/2007

In response to widening concerns about the safety of the nation’s food supply chain, legislation has been announced in both the House and Senate in an attempt to give the FDA more authority to regulate food safety. This may be good news for produce haulers.

Some powerful political players have introduced legislation aimed at strengthening America’s food safety net in recent weeks.

OOIDA Regulatory Affairs Specialist Joe Rajkovacz said lawmakers are clearly aware of the problems in the food supply chain, including recent recalls of leafy greens, even after efforts have been made by the produce industry to improve their food safety standards.

“This proves what the Association has been saying all along – voluntary guidelines just don’t work. The industry shouldn’t be allowed to regulate itself,” he said. “Federal oversight is necessary and there must be meaningful dialogue with all affected parties in the food supply chain.”

House legislation
In the House, Rep. John D. Dingell, D-MI, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, has introduced a bill which would give the Food and Drug Administration authority to issue mandatory recalls on contaminated food. The legislation is in response to recent food contamination outbreaks, including the 2006 E. coli outbreak that left three dead and sickened more than 200 people, and several other foodborne illness outbreaks that have occurred in the past year.

Co-sponsors of Dingell’s bill include Rep. Bart Stupak, D-MI, chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, and Rep. Frank Pallone, D-NJ, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Health Subcommittee.

“Under current law, the FDA does not have mandatory recall authority,” Stupak said. “When there are concerns about contamination of our food supply, the FDA can make recommendations, but pulling off the shelf is still left up to the private companies. That is unacceptable, and this legislation would give the FDA the recall authority it needs to protect the health and safety of the American people.”

Senate legislation
On the other side of the capitol, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-IA, chairman of the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, announced legislation – the Fresh Produce Safety Act of 2007. It would establish a national food safety framework for all fresh produce.

“For American consumers and producers, it is long-overdue for the FDA to exercise more oversight of food safety practices both in the field and in the processing of produce,” Harkin said in a recent press release. “Legislation I am working on in the Senate aims to do just that.”

Relief for truckers?
Rajkovacz said if Dingell’s legislation, which would give FDA mandatory recall authority, details exactly what truckers are supposed to do when a recall is issued, it would be a major improvement over the status quo.

“It’s wonderful to see that Capitol Hill is tackling the issues surrounding food safety and addressing mandatory recall procedures,” Rajkovacz said. “However, it may not be meaningful for truckers if there are no mandated lines of demarcated responsibility.

“Without mandatory recall procedures that specifically address what a trucker should do when they are in transit with potentially contaminated product, and the responsibilities of shippers and receivers are not outlined – this could become another case where the truckers again become the dumping ground.”

Still reeling from the 2006 E. coli outbreak that rocked California’s leafy green produce industry, two more voluntary recalls in the industry in less than a month have triggered growing concerns as to whether self-regulation is working.

Fortunately, truckers in the more recent two recalls have dodged the bullet and have not been “left holding the bag” with recalled product on their trailers. That wasn’t the case a year ago when several OOIDA members were hauling potentially contaminated product during last year’s E.coli outbreak.

– By Clarissa Kell-Holland, staff writer