Two U.S. senators are sponsoring a new bill that would allow the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) access to concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) when foodborne outbreaks and other public health concerns require further investigation. 

Senators Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) have introduced a new bill, the Expanded Food Safety Investigation Act of 2019 (S.2958), that will provide FDA the authority to conduct microbiological sampling on CAFOs as necessary to facilitate a foodborne illness outbreak investigation, determine the root cause of an outbreak, or address other public health needs. 

FDA describes a CAFO as “a facility with a large number of cattle on the premises. The CAFO can hold in excess of 100,000 head of cattle at any one time and the FDA traceback information showed a clustering of romaine lettuce farms nearby.” CAFOs are believed to have been a potential contamination source in the 2018 outbreak of Escherichia coli O157:H7 that was linked to romaine lettuce grown in the Yuma, AZ, growing region.

S.2958 would allow the following to take place:

“(a) In General.—The Secretary may request access to a concentrated animal feeding operation in order to conduct microbial sampling, if the Secretary determines that such microbial sampling is necessary in order to facilitate a foodborne illness outbreak investigation, determine the root cause of an outbreak of foodborne illness, or address other public health needs.

“(b) Granting Of Reasonable Access.—A concentrated animal feeding operation that receives a request for access under paragraph (a) shall provide reasonable access to the Secretary to conduct such microbial sampling, including sampling of plants, animals, water, and the environment, as the Secretary determines appropriate to address the public health need. Such operation may place reasonable conditions on access to the operation, including by specifying a time, place, and manner for sampling, provided that any such conditions do not prevent the Secretary from conducting appropriate sampling within a reasonable period of time.

“(c) Authority Over Foods Regulated By The Secretary Of Agriculture.—Nothing in this section shall be construed to impose additional requirements by the Secretary, beyond microbial sampling, with respect to food that is within the jurisdiction of the Secretary of Agriculture pursuant to the Federal Meat Inspection Act, the Poultry Products Inspection Act, or the Egg Products Inspection Act.

“(d) Coordination With Other Public Health Agencies.—The Secretary shall ensure that data collected under this section are made available to the Secretary of Agriculture and relevant State and Federal public health agencies in order to facilitate work in detecting, investigating, or preventing foodborne illness. Nothing in this section shall be construed to limit the rights and exemptions otherwise available under section 552 of title 5, United States Code.

“(e) Definition.—In this section, the term ‘concentrated animal feeding operation’ has the meaning given such term in section 122.23(b) of title 40, Code of Federal Regulations (or any successor regulations).”.

(b) Enforcement.—Section 301 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (21 U.S.C. 331) is amended by adding at the end the following:

“(fff) The refusal to provide reasonable access for microbial sampling in accordance with section 424.”.

The bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) and Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), has been referred to the U.S. House of Representatives’ House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

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