The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s food safety system, is starting to be implemented. These new rules are part of the food safety bill that was passed 2 years ago, and many critics are saying that’s it’s about darned time they were put into action.
The idea is to be proactive, preventing food-borne illness instead of reacting to them when they appear. The new standards address farmers and manufacturers and will bring the food industry into the 21st century. Every year, it’s estimated that 48 million Americans will be affected by food-borne illnesses – about 3,000 of them will die.
The rulebook is 1,200 pages thick and will make our food safer every step of the way. Rules for food processors require comprehensive sanitary measures from the packaging floor to the bathrooms, including what employees can wear while working with the food. Produce farmers will have to provide hand-washing stations for pickers and make sure that contaminated water does not affect the plants. Some foods, particularly ones that are eaten cooked and canned, are exempt from the new rules.
The FDA’s deputy commissioner said in an interview that…
“It’s a big leap forward in applying modern, preventive measures across the whole food supply. It’s important to see these rules as setting the standards for food safety. The strength of this system is it is science-based; it’s not one-size-fits-all. It’s inherently adaptable to all sorts of operations. We’re looking to take widely recognized principles and apply them to a widely diverse food supply.”
This is just one step in the modernization of the food industry which is, in itself, only one part of the upgrade that our infrastructure so urgently needs. The food industry is reacting favorably to the new guidelines but are not coming right out and endorsing them. They say that they already have high standards and follow them to the letter. But that hasn’t stopped the increasing number of food-borne illnesses and related product recalls – 441 in the past seven years, 103 of them in 2011, the last year for which statistics are available.
The implementation of these new rules will cost about $30,000 for a large farm. But the puzzle is how the new inspectors will be paid – the Congressional Budget Office estimates that will take $1.4 billion over the first five years. State and local governments will need to help out and, in addition, user fees will be charged to the food companies. Republicans in Congress have, naturally, objected and fought new funds for the FDA because, hey, 99% safe is safe enough, right? It’s taken two years but they finally gave in and this new act passed with bipartisan support.
The law gives the FDA the muscle to enforce the new law, too. It will be able to recall products and examine records and will hire 2,000 new inspectors to make sure everything is running smoothly and cleanly. More rules are on the horizon including a requirement for imported foods to align themselves to the new regulations. Even American companies will have some time to get used to them as the FDA will take comments for four months before finalizing the rules. That may take up to two years but the time and money will be well worth it to save lives.
T. Steelman is a life-long Liberal. She has been writing online about politics since 2007. She lives in Western Washington with her husband, daughter, 2 cats and a small herd of alpacas. How can anybody be enlightened? Truth is, after all, so poorly lit…