Washington, D.C.—The Food Safety Accountability Act, introduced in September by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) would, if passed, establish criminal penalties for "any individual or corporation that knowingly distributes tainted food products." The penalties include a fine and/or a maximum prison sentence of 10 years.

The bill, which at press time had been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee to which it was referred, is gaining opposition from those who feel it could potentially threaten innocent distributors and store owners. Online petitions have sprung up against the bill with many thousands of signees, one sponsored by the Alliance for Natural Health USA (on www.thepetitionsite.com) reading in part, “If this legislation passes, these small natural food and supplement makers and distributors, who have harmed no one, could be sentenced for up to 10 years in prison simply for telling a customer how a supplement or vitamin might help.”

Opponents say the wording of the bill, including terms such “knowingly” and “misbranded,” could allow the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to harass natural product makers about issues irrelevant to food safety. They point out that FDA’s definition of misbranding includes product health claims it does not recognize, but which are otherwise backed by scientific research.

"The American people should be confident that the food they buy for their families is safe," said Leahy. "The Food Safety Accountability Act will hold criminals who poison our food supply accountable for their crimes.” Leahy is pushing for the bill to progress in the wake of the massive tainted-egg recall from the summer.

The entire text of the bill is available online at Leahy’s Web site, http://leahy.senate.gov.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, November 2010 (published ahead of print on September 28, 2010)