There was an interesting article in The New York Times on Sunday. It was Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser's review of what the Food Safety Modernization bill (S510) will actually mean to consumers. There has been much debate about the bill, especially how it will fare in the "lame duck" government we now have since the early November elections.
If the thousands of people affected every year from food-borne illnesses are any indication, food regulation is obviously a necessity. The question is can the FDA handle it? To some, as in Jim Prevor's article in The Weekly Standard today, the FDA is a slow-moving behemoth that won't do much more regulation than it already does and will simply increase costs for the average consumer.
The point of the bill is for the FDA to become a proactive agency, rather than a reactive one. Instead of waiting until people get sick, why not protect against the source of contamination before it becomes a problem? It's kind of like safe sex for food groups. Sounds good in theory, but can it be done? Only time will tell.
See an excerpt below from Pollan and Schlosser's article:
A Stale Food Fight
By MICHAEL POLLAN and ERIC SCHLOSSER
Published: November 28, 2010
"THE best opportunity in a generation to improve the safety of the American food supply will come as early as Monday night, when the Senate is scheduled to vote on the F.D.A. Food Safety Modernization bill. This legislation is by no means perfect. But it promises to achieve several important food safety objectives, greatly benefiting consumers without harming small farmers or local food producers.
The bill would, for the first time, give the F.D.A., which oversees 80 percent of the nation’s food, the authority to test widely for dangerous pathogens and to recall contaminated food. The agency would finally have the resources and authority to prevent food safety problems, rather than respond only after people have become ill. The bill would also require more frequent inspections of large-scale, high-risk food-production plants.
Last summer, when thousands of people were infected with salmonella from filthy, vermin-infested henhouses in Iowa, Americans were outraged to learn that the F.D.A. had never conducted a food safety inspection at these huge operations that produce billions of eggs a year. The new rules might have kept those people — mainly small children and the elderly — from getting sick.
The law would also help to protect Americans from unsafe food produced overseas: for the first time, imported foods would be subject to the same standards as those made in the United States....
By one estimate, the kinds of farms that the bill would exempt represent less than 1 percent of the food marketplace. Does the food industry really want to sabotage an effort to ensure the safety of 99 percent of that marketplace because it is so deeply concerned about under-regulation of 1 percent? The largest outbreaks are routinely caused by the largest processors, not by small producers selling their goods at farmers’ markets.
Theodore Roosevelt ran up against the same sort of resistance when he fought for the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. “Unfortunately,” he said, “the misdeeds of those who are responsible for the abuses we design to cure will bring discredit and damage not only upon them, but upon the innocent stock growers, the ranchmen and farmers of this country.” That is one reason the federal government decided to guarantee food safety during the last century — and why it must continue to do so in this one."
To read the whole article, click here.
Image courtesy of Scientific American.