The US Congress has set out a series of reforms it believes will enable the Food and Drug Administration to better monitor the safety of food.

Following a number of investigatory hearings looking at the weaknesses of the FDA, a Congressional committee has drawn up a draft proposal of the major changes it wants the agency to institute to ensure the safety of food imports.

"By strengthening protections against tainted imports and boosting FDA resources, this bill will help assure Americans that the food on their tables and the medicine in their cabinets is safe," said John Dingell, chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce.

"Our legislation will provide the resources and regulations necessary to protect American families from the unsafe food and drugs pouring into this country from China and elsewhere," Bart Stupak, who heads the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, added.

The committee has posted a draft of the Food and Drug Administration Globalization Act of 2008 for discussion. It intends to hold legislative hearings on the draft over the next few weeks.

The draft document proposes the creation of an accurate registry of all food facilities serving US consumers; the prevention of food safety issues through the requirement of foreign and domestic food manufacturing sites to have safety plans that identify and mitigate hazards; FDA inspections of manufacturing sites to be carried out every four years; and country-of-origin labelling to disclose where the final processing of the food product occurred.

The committee also proposed that the FDA be given additional powers to issue mandatory recalls and strengthen fines imposed on food companies that fail to comply with safety regulations.

In addition, the committee suggested a rule that would see meat, poultry and seafood products that have had carbon monoxide added carry labelling to alert consumers.

According to the committee, a greater degree of transparency is necessary and a method that allows the public to observe and comprehend why the FDA designated an additive "generally recognised as safe" should be developed. 

However, while the US food industry has acknowledged that the FDA requires strengthening, it has opposed a number of the committee's suggestions.

"The Food and Drug Administration Globalization Act of 2008 as drafted for discussion creates unnecessary regulatory burdens, over-broad enforcement power, and would likely result in a further increase in food prices," said Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) SVP and chief science & regulatory affairs officer Bob Bracket.

The GMA told just-food that the proposal to introduce user-fees would effectively act as a tax on the food industry - which is already struggling due to higher costs.

"The GMA, and our member companies, believe that the scope and powers of the FDA do need revisiting," a spokesperson said. "This needs to be achieved through closer consultation with industry and other interested parties. We need to employ some common sense and increase cooperation between the regulators and the regulated. It is in all our interests to improve food safety and consumer confidence."

The GMA is an industry body representing industry giants such as Nestle, Kraft Foods, ConAgra, General Mills and PepsiCo.