US food manufacturers have attacked the government’s choice of approach in its fight against the potential threat of bio-terrorism, fearing that strict tightening of industry regulations will leave them at the mercy of intensive new inspection procedures and potentially damaging Food and Drug Administration (FDA) registration rules.

Before it embarks on a Christmas break, the House hopes to approve a re-drafted version of the US$2.7bn bio-terrorism bill (the last became embroiled in a Senate debate over funding), which will provide about US$100m for new food-safety initiatives. Inspections will be boosted for imported foods and domestically produced foods, and new provisions enable officials to detain food shipments in the event of “credible evidence” suggesting the food is dangerous.
The lawmakers describe the bill as the “first step” on the road to combating the threat of bio-terrorism, and have admitted that it is not as comprehensive as they would have liked.

The bill has attracted much criticism from food industry representatives, however, who say that it is too heavy handed in forcing the issues of food safety and bio-terrorism together. They argue that greater industry oversight is needed.

A leading lobbyist with industry group the National Food Processors Association, Kelly Johnston told the Wall Street Journal that the predominant concern with the bill is its requirement that all food-handling facilities are registered with the FDA. Importantly, the FDA will have unprecedented access to food companies’ records if it believes contaminated food is being produced. Johnston maintained confidential records should be unavailable to the FDA because they “could embarrass a company” or inform a competitor.

Consumer groups meanwhile argue that the measures are not far reaching enough to protect members of the public from contaminated foods.