The US House of Representatives is considering a bill to modernise the country’s food safety system, including steps designed to create a more transparent supply chain and to inspect processing facilities more often.

The bill, introduced yesterday (27 May) by Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Henry Waxman and Representative John Dingell, would extend the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) enforcement powers.

If passed, the new legislation would include a swathe of measures and would give the FDA the authority to issue recalls, “quarantine” suspect food, impose civil penalties and increase criminal sanctions against those who violate food safety rules.

It would also place greater responsibility on the industry, requiring each step on the supply chain to identify contamination risks, document action taken and provide said documentation to federal regulators.

The bill follows growing concern in the US about the failings of food safety regulators and follows a number of high-profile recalls, including the recent contamination of peanut products with salmonella.

Food industry body the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) said that it largely supports the proposals. However, the GMA opposed a US$1,000 annual registration fee that all food facilities would be required to pay in order to help mitigate the cost of increased FDA oversight.

“We are concerned that the draft legislation released today by Chairman Waxman proposes significant new fees on food companies and ultimately consumers at a time when they can least afford it and in the face of an unprecedented increase in appropriated funding for FDA food safety activities,” GMA president and CEO Pamela Bailey said.

Bailey also highlighted concern that the additional red tape required to track food ingredients down the supply chain would add a further financial burden. She suggested that the industry funding a government programme could present a conflict of interest.

“We are concerned about the inherent conflict of interest created by asking industry to fund government inspections. We are also concerned about provisions that increase the cost of food without improving the safety of the food supply,” Bailey said.