On May 8, 2008, the chairmen of the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee (Committee) and the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations (Subcommittee) sent a letter of inquiry to numerous U.S. food processors requesting information on the firms’ history of recalls, food safety alerts, and all instances of known chemical or microbiological contamination since January 1, 2000. The inquiry letter is part of the overall investigation the Committee and its Subcommittee have been conducting into issues related to the safety of the U.S. food supply. In particular, since the beginning of the current congressional session in January 2007, the Subcommittee has held six hearings on U.S. food safety issues.
The Committee and Subcommittee now are seeking to assess the extent of microbiological and/or chemical contamination that may result during food processing, and the extent to which controls have failed to prevent or eliminate the contamination. To facilitate the Committee’s assessment, the inquiry letter requests that the major U.S. food processors provide, among other things, the following information related to activities at their facilities since January 1, 2000:
The Committee’s inquiry letter, which appears to gather additional information to support giving mandatory recall authority to the FDA, presents several interesting regulatory and legal implications for the food processor recipients. First, the letter requests several internal documents and test results that the FDA may not even have access to during the course of a routine facility inspection. These internal documents and test results may contain highly sensitive information that could implicate the companies in a product liability action or affect currently pending actions. Additionally, the inquiry letter poses a public relations challenge for food processors. The companies that received the letter must balance their obligations to respond to the Committee’s investigatory powers and the desire to be viewed as a company concerned about providing safe food products to U.S. consumers, against the potential legal and regulatory ramifications of releasing potentially damaging documents to the Committee.
We will continue to monitor the Committee's investigation and would be pleased to discuss the implications of this inquiry letter or any other related issues.
Michael D. Flanagan
Sarah A. Key
David L. Rosen