A curious hole in the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) authority over food recalls became apparent during the national peanut recalls of 2009. The agency announced it was serving Westco Fruit and Nuts Inc. with an investigation warrant after the company declined to initiate a recall of its peanut products despite FDA recommendations--this in the midst of a peanut-borne salmonella outbreak.
The situation was possible because under the existing law, the agency had the ability to suggest that a company recall a product, but it had no recall authority without a court order.
Although it has gotten a lot of attention and is a centerpiece of the legislation, some experts question what the recall authority will really change.
Of more impact on food companies is increased inspections of facilities by FDA inspectors as well as state and local authorities acting in cooperation with the FDA.
The bill has not gone without criticism, both for what it includes and what it lacks. Marler, for instance, says the bill leaves its own funding to another day. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., has criticized the bill for too much spending and not enough impact on food safety. The Tester amendment, which was introduced by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., to lessen the bill's impact on small and family farms, is being criticized by larger food companies that worry less-regulated products from smaller facilities could migrate into the larger stream of commerce. And advocates pushing for a single food agency to oversee food safety, nutrition and inspection--driven in part by miscommunications between the USDA and FDA during the egg recall in 2010--were left disappointed.