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NYT to White House: Move Forward on Food Safety Rules

'Such delays call into question the Obama administration's commitment to reforms'

The New York Times over the weekend called on the White House’s Office of Management and Budget to release food safety rules that the agency has been reviewing for 8 months — adding to a growing chorus of consumer advocates, industry groups, and lawmakers asking for the rules to move forward.

Nineteen months after President Obama signed the landmark Food Safety Modernization Act into law, the critical elements of the law are not in place, but stuck in regulatory limbo.

“If you think the food supply has become markedly safer since then, think again,” wrote the Times.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration sent drafts rules for preventive controls, produce safety, feed controls, and foreign supplier verification in December 2011. Major regulations to head to OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), where they undergo a cost-benefit analysis, but the office has only 90 days to weigh the costs and benefits of the rule — though it can be expanded to 120 days with an extension.

“While coordinating suggestions from various agencies can take time, a delay of eight months and counting lends credence to the suspicions of consumer advocates who think election-year politics are at play, with Democrats trying to avoid Republican charges that rules kill jobs,” added the editorial. “The budget office denies this, and can point to many rules that have been approved, including a crucial one reducing mercury emissions from power plants. But several important rules, like those on food safety, remain in limbo.

The Times notes that there are many significant rules languishing at OMB, including clean water regulations, labor protections for home care aides, and creditor regulations aimed at protecting veterans, the poor, disabled from bank garnishments — “Such delays call into question the Obama administration’s commitment to reforms that are needed to make government work better and more effectively.”

Obama’s head of OIRA, otherwise known as the regulatory czar, Cass Sunstein recently resigned from the administration to return to Harvard, leaving many questions about what impact his departure might have on the major rules under review.

In an article over the weekend, the Denver Post also highlighted the longtime delay for food safety rules, noting that it has been about a year since the tragic Listeria outbreak linked to cantaloupes claimed more lives than any other outbreak in nearly a century.

“The law was too recent to prevent last summer’s deadly listeria outbreak (and local growers have since implemented their own safety provisions), but more than 18 months later, it should be a vital safeguard against further illnesses,” wrote Lisa Wirthman for the Post. “Unfortunately, that’s not the case.”

© Food Safety News
  • Nathan

    Honestly, if this is election year politics… So what? Do you mean that at your food factory these rules are going to change how you do your job day to day? I don’t think so. This was a signature accomplishment of Obama to pass this bill. This was a collaboration of industry, government and consumers. It certainly wouldn’t have passed had Republicans been in office. So, lets have some patience so Obama can win his second term. And in the mean time, if you are afraid of the rules-you better go take a look at your factory and be ready!