By John Lustyan
Today the Senate responded to mounting, public outcry surrounding recalls of contaminated eggs, spinach, meat, peanuts, and other foods, by passing S.510 Food Safety Modernization Act.
By a vote of 73 – 25 lawmakers have given the FDA the ability to move beyond “reacting to outbreaks and recalls to preventing them,” says Chris Waldrop, director of the Food Policy Institute at the Consumer Federation of America.
Like an earlier bill passed by the House of Representatives, both give the FDA more power over food production, from farms to the processors in the areas of recalls, individual commodity based standards and the tracking of product throughout the supply chain. Yet, neither version addresses the voids or redundancy of the Department of Agriculture’s functions, including those in most poultry and meat processing plants.
At question is whether the Senate version will move on to President Obama for signature or go back to the table to smooth out differences between the two laws.
Among other topics to be reconciled is funding. With the strain on the nation’s budget, the House version subsidizes the cost of additional inspections, in part by assessing food producers. The Senate’s does not. Either way, the cost of food will go up.
According to the Center for Disease Control, food borne illness strikes 76 million people and is responsible for killing 5,000 each year. In August, we faced the largest single food recall in history after a salmonella outbreak sickened 1,500 people.
It’s not surprising, given an April report by the inspector general at the Department of Health and Human Services indicating that less than one-half of eligible food facilities had been inspected during a recent 5-year period.
The highly debated issues of big government versus small and regulation versus deregulation also play a role in the impending legislation.
Consumers in pursuit of safer and healthier choices have demonstrated a shift in buying preferences, focused more on organic and locally produced foods. Subjecting these local, typically smaller farms to the administrative and economic requirements imposed by the bill could reduce the competitive value they offer consumers ... and even, threaten farmers’ livelihoods. In response, a last minute amendment to S.510, by Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.) exempts farms with less than $500,000 in annual sales from the new regulations.
In addition, the FDA also seeks to expand current regulations for the nutritional supplement industry. Given that the FDA has approved food additives proven to be unhealthful beckons the question as to where their attention is balanced ... favoring big business or you and I, the consumer. Hopefully, the absence of most meat and poultry plants from both new laws doesn’t mean ... big business as usual.