Editor’s note: This opinion column was originally published by the Environmental Working Group under the headline “No Rules? No Food Safety” and reflects the views of Scott Faber, EWG’s vice president of government affairs. Below is a letter on the same topic, sent by several organizations — including EWG, the Consumers Union, the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention — opposing H.R. 5, also known as the Regulatory Accountability Act of 2017.
Everyone likes safe food. Polls show consumers want food safety to be a top priority for food companies and policymakers.
So it may be surprising to learn that some members of Congress are proposing to subject all new food safety rules to an unrelenting gauntlet of regulatory obstacles.
The House has already passed the Regulatory Accountability Act, which would require endless studies of potential agency alternatives and subject new rules to layers upon layers of judicial review and congressional approval. Now the Senate is developing its own version.
It’s not just worker and environmental protection rules that would be blocked by these legislative efforts to – in the words of President Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon – “deconstruct the administrative state.”
One of the likely victims of these new regulatory roadblocks would be new food safety rules.
Before any new food safety rule could be adopted, agencies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture would first have to consider an endless array of regulatory options. Then their proposed rules would have to withstand two layers of review by judges newly charged to second-guess agency experts. Finally, any new rule would have to be approved by both the Senate and the House.
In all likelihood, no food safety rule would ever emerge from this obstacle course. No wonder some experts have started to dub the Regulatory Accountability Act the “Filthy Food Bill.”
The “Filthy Food Bill” is bad news for consumers because food safety rules have saved thousands of lives and prevented millions of illnesses. Following the tragic deaths of four children who consumed E. coli bacteria, the USDA issued a rule to ban the sale of hamburgers contaminated with the pathogen. Following the equally tragic deaths of nine consumers from salmonella in peanut products, Congress gave the FDA the power to develop food safety rules for food processing plants.
If the Regulatory Accountability Act or similar laws had already been enacted, it’s likely that none of these food safety rules would now be in effect.
Food safety rules aren’t just good for consumers. They’re also good for business. Food safety laws build the confidence of consumers and trading partners, and help food companies weed out bad actors. No wonder the food industry strongly supports new food safety rules.
Despite the progress that’s been made, unsafe food continues to kill 3,000 Americans every year and send 128,000 to hospitals. Putting endless regulatory roadblocks before the FDA, USDA and other public health agencies won’t make them great. It will make our food less safe.
March 21, 2017
Senator Ron Johnson
Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
328 Hart Senate Office Building Washington, DC 20510
Senator Claire McCaskill
Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
503 Hart Senate Office Building Washington, DC 20510
REJECT THE “FILTHY FOOD ACT”
On behalf of organizations committed to safe food, we strongly oppose H.R. 5, the so-called Regulatory Accountability Act of 2017, which more aptly should be named the “Filthy Food Act.” We urge the Senate to reject similar efforts that jeopardize the safety of our food supply.
Food safety rules help reduce the risks posed by pathogens and pesticides. But, the “Filthy Food Act” passed by the House would create an unprecedented regulatory gauntlet through which no food safety rule or guidance could pass. The “Filthy Food Act” would arbitrarily cut science out of the regulatory process, replacing public input and expert analysis with never-ending reviews and layers upon layers of wasteful Congressional and judicial red tape. These changes would paralyze the federal response to emerging public health and safety threats.
Food safety rules have saved thousands of lives and prevented millions of cases of foodborne illness according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Their adoption has often followed terrifying foodborne illness outbreaks that exposed food system problems in urgent need of a solution. For example, the year after the 1993 Jack in the Box outbreak, the United States Department of Agriculture declared E.Coli O157:H7 to be an adulterant, effectively banning the sale of meat contaminated with the pathogen. According to CDC estimates, the rate of E. coli illnesses has fallen by nearly 50 percent since this rule went into effect.
Despite these advances, unsafe food continues to sicken an estimated 48 million people, hospitalize 128,000, and kill another 3,000 every year. Regulatory policy must address changing threats, such as disease-resistant “super bugs” and risks arising out of new production methods. This is why food safety rules under the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) of 2011 are so critical, and expected to prevent over 800,000 cases of foodborne illness each year, according to the FDA’s regulatory impact analysis.
Food safety rules are good not only for consumers, but are also good for business. Passage of FSMA was strongly supported by the food industry because food businesses thrive when consumers have confidence that their food won’t make them sick. Good rules help the food industry build consumer confidence, weed out bad actors, quickly recall contaminated food, and open new markets. But, if the “Filthy Food Act” had been enacted, critical food safety rules and guidance — not to mention protections to keep air clean, get lead out of gasoline and paint, improve school foods, and inform consumers about what’s in the foods they eat — might still be held up in unnecessary, wasteful reviews and needless red tape.
Americans have a right to safe food. This bill would take America in the wrong direction and put children, families, and businesses at risk. We strongly oppose H.R. 5 and urge the Senate to reject the “Filthy Food Act.”
cc Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Members
Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention Center for Science in the Public Interest
Consumer Federation of America
Environmental Working Group
Food & Environment Program, Union of Concerned Scientists Food & Water Watch
Food Policy Action