Health IT

By Alice Lipowicz

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Food safety legislation may ladle IT money to FDA

Senate legislation that would boost the Food and Drug Administration’s capabilities to prevent, identify and respond to foodborne illnesses is expected to come to the floor within days. If the bill becomes law, does that mean there will be more money for FDA information technology systems? Most likely so, but you might have to read between the lines on that.

The House passed a food-safety bill last July. The Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) had been waiting in the wings during the health care reform debate, but now is in line for a Senate vote. Durbin’s FDA Food Safety Modernization Act would give the FDA new authority, tools and resources, according to an April 11 statement from Durbin’s office.

“Today, FDA is working within the constraints of outdated laws, inadequate staff and not enough funding,” said Durbin. “The agency has been set up to react to outbreaks of contamination. My legislation would take the FDA to a new level by empowering the agency to prevent outbreaks. The bill gives FDA the resources and authority to quickly trace food borne illnesses back to their source.”

It also increases FDA surveillance of foodborne illnesses, access to testing records and results and FDA authority to do recalls.

According to a copy of Durbin’s bill posted in the Library of Congress database, standards will be set for the information, format and time frame for people to submit records about foodborne illnesses to the FDA. The legislation refers to use of “technologies, including existing technologies, that enhance traceback and trace forward.” It also refers to use of surveillance systems to improve the collection, analysis and reporting of data on foodborne illnesses, and increased participation in federal information-sharing in networks for that purpose.

However, the bill also is careful to say that “nothing in this section shall be construed as giving the secretary the authority to prescribe specific technologies for the maintenance of records.”

Later on, the bill states that increased capacity of FDA systems is aimed at “working toward automatic electronic searches”-- and that is about as close as it gets for a description of what types of FDA systems might be expanded under the bill. The legislation does not mention fancy new IT applications and IT system expansions—which might have scared off the small farmers that already are complaining that the legislation brings in too much new regulation and raises their expenses—but if you search for IT in the bill, you can find something.

Posted by Alice Lipowicz on Apr 14, 2010 at 12:14 PM


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