WASHINGTON (AP) — Food and drug company executives are expected to take issue with a proposal to charge fees on imported goods to pay for increased U.S. port inspections.
Led by Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the proposal will be debated Wednesday at a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which he chairs.
Dingell introduced the bill amid a string of recalls involving tainted products from China, including toothpaste and seafood.
''We are now importing twice as much food as we were a decade ago, yet the (Food and Drug Administration) examines less than 1 percent of it,'' Dingell said in a statement.
An industry trade group, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, agrees that more inspectors are needed but that they should be paid for with income tax revenue, not fees charged to companies.
''A user fee is usually something paid in exchange for a public service, but in this case the beneficiaries of improved food safety would include every American, not just food companies,'' said Scott Faber, vice president for government affairs of the GMA.
Democrats are unlikely to propose tax hikes going into a presidential election year but they do want to address the food safety issues as quickly as possible, experts say.
''Increasing reports of contaminated imports have made it clear that the FDA does not have the resources and authority it needs to ensure the safety of our food and drug supply. This puts every American consumer at risk,'' Dingell said.
The GMA, whose members include Hormel Foods Corp. and Kellogg Co., released a proposal last week to tighten regulations on food importing companies.
That proposal includes companies sharing more information with the government about incoming shipments to allow regulators to focus on high-risk imports. The group also recommends boosting FDA funding to help inspect more of the shipments that enter the U.S. through its ports and borders.
The GMA's president, Calvin Dooley, is one of more than a half dozen witnesses scheduled to testify at the hearing.
Also slated to appear are representatives from the FDA and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, which represents companies such as Wyeth and Pfizer Inc.