Grocery and food producers told lawmakers yesterday that a proposal to impose fees to fund more safety oversight would amount to a $1 billion new tax on the industry that would raise prices for consumers.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association, representing companies including Campbell Soup Co., headquartered in Camden, and General Mills Inc., said the measure would contribute to the rising cost of food.

"Inevitably there would be an increase in the cost of the products that is passed on to the consumer," Cal Dooley, the group's president and a former Democratic lawmaker, told a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee yesterday. "You are further compounding the rapid increase in food prices, the likes of which we haven't seen in recent years."

Rep. John D. Dingell (D., Mich.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, circulated a draft measure to overhaul the Food and Drug Administration last week as part of the response to a spate of recalls of food and tainted medicine.

Dingell said improving inspections would help the companies represented by the grocers' group by restoring confidence in the food supply and reducing costly lawsuits.

With the legislative changes, "you would get safe food from places like China, where they sell all manner of crap," Dingell told Dooley.

Under the proposal, food producers would have to pay annual registration fees of $2,000 per facility, generating $600 million for FDA food-safety activities, more than doubling the current budget. The FDA would be required to conduct inspections every two years of both domestic and foreign makers of drugs and medical devices.

Importers would have to pay an additional $400 million in fees, Dooley said.

Supporters of the legislation say the FDA hasn't done enough to protect against tainted products. The blood-thinner heparin, using an ingredient from China, was linked this year to allergic reactions and deaths.