Food safety advocates oppose House appropriations rider that would scuttle FDA traceability rule

U.S. Capitol Building

Elijah Mears -

Legislation would freeze implementation of recordkeeping law passed by Congress in 2010 to aid foodborne illness outbreak investigations

The Safe Food Coalition, a partnership of consumer, public health, research, and labor organizations that advocates for improvements to the food safety system, is asking Congressional leaders to oppose legislation that would delay implementation of FDA’s final rule on Requirements for Additional Traceability Records for Certain Foods, aka “the FDA Food Traceability Rule,” currently scheduled to go into effect January 20, 2026. According to the groups, the January 2026 compliance date gives industry ample time to prepare, and represents an already long overdue step required to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which Congress passed with broad bipartisan support in 2010, nearly a decade and a half ago. Some in Congress today, however, are seeking to delay and even dismantle the rule.

The final traceability rule requires food companies to keep records for certain categories of foods, like leafy greens, shell eggs, and peanut butter, that have long proven challenging for outbreak investigations. In order to solve outbreaks linked to these foods, which are often perishable and sold in bulk, FDA officials have had to untangle a maze of varying records kept by companies along the supply chain. The traceability rule will standardize recordkeeping across the supply chain speeding outbreak investigations and making recalls more effective. A core component of the rule requires manufacturers, processors, packers and retailers to maintain records containing key information, including lot codes for every unit of food sold.

Leaders within the industry have already begun taking steps to comply with the FDA rule. The retailer Kroger, for example, announced that its food suppliers would have new traceability protocols in place by next summer. However, a food retailer trade association has pushed for legislation in the House, provocatively titled the Food Traceability Enhancement Act (H.R. 7563), which would delay implementation of the rule by requiring FDA to engage in extensive pilot projects prior to implementation, and allow retailers to discard lot code information developed and maintained by suppliers upstream in the supply chain, the core requirement of the rule.

Provisions of that bill recently found their way into the Fiscal Year 2025 bill for the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Subcommittee, released by the House Appropriations Committee. They would block FDA from requiring compliance with the Food Traceability Rule in 2026, and instead direct the agency to conduct pilot studies, including one that will require the agency to “successfully” solve an outbreak without requiring lot code information from retailers.  Consumer advocates say this would force the FDA to develop a cherry-picked example to build a case against the lot code requirement, which FDA has already demonstrated, through its work on prior outbreaks, is necessary to improve outbreak investigation.

This is an impossible task, according to the advocates, because lot codes are the centerpiece of a functional traceback system. As a result, allowing retailers to discard lot code information that has been carefully developed and shared by suppliers will effectively lay waste to FDA’s rule, and devalue the efforts of produce growers, distributors, manufacturers and other suppliers seeking to develop and maintain records to improve outbreak investigations. Advocates also point out that FDA has already collaborated with industry to conduct pilot studies demonstrating the need for better recordkeeping, and incorporated the results of those studies into the rule it developed.

“Congress ordered FDA to create a system of commonsense traceability requirements for food retailers and their suppliers almost 14 years ago. Legislators should not now throw a wrench in the works now that FDA is finally ready to implement that system,” said Thomas Gremillion, Director of Food Policy at Consumer Federation of America. “When regulators cannot determine the source of a foodborne illness outbreak, more consumers get sick, and more products get recalled, causing prices to increase. FDA should stick to its timeline and Congress should let the agency do its job.”

“This attack on traceability could more correctly be called the Food Traceability Evisceration Act, because it will gut the very traceability system Congress originally ordered FDA to create,” said Sarah Sorscher, Director of Regulatory Affairs at Center for Science in the Public Interest. “Responsible members of the food industry are already working with FDA to comply with traceability requirements. Congress should not make that effort go to waste by turning the clock back on this very sensible and necessary policy.”

“Recent efforts to undermine and delay the implementation of the traceability rule would be very harmful and fail to protect consumers when unsafe food enters the marketplace,” said Brian Ronholm, Director of Food Policy for Consumer Reports. “Significant progress is already being made on food traceability, with some retailers announcing they expect their suppliers to comply with the rule's requirements in advance of the compliance date. Last week's FDA warning letter to Dollar Tree for failing to remove recalled apple cinnamon fruit puree pouches from store shelves serves as a critical reminder of the need to move forward with the traceability rule and that consumers cannot afford any unnecessary delays."

“American consumers deserve a safe and healthy food system. Basic traceability standards are vital to food safety and consumer protection,” said Rebecca Wolf, Senior Food Policy Analyst at Food & Water Watch. “Without them, we remain in the dark about the food we eat, while major retailers ignore their responsibility to help identify the source of contaminated foods they sell. Congressmembers must not delay or block commonsense Food Safety Modernization Act traceability standards.”

“H.R. 7563 and section 768 of the House appropriations bill would delay long overdue implementation of the Food Traceability Final Rule and undermine the integrity of the 2010 Food Safety Modernization Act,” said Andrea Meza, Director of the Food Integrity Campaign at the Government Accountability Project. “Doing so would jeopardize public health and safety by impeding transparency and accountability in our food supply chain, once more underscoring the outsized enforcement role of whistleblowers.” 


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