Improving food safety is not as easy task! But right now, we have a huge opportunity to “seize the day” and make a much-needed first step toward food safety reform!
Center for Foodborne Illness Research and Prevention is a member of the Make Our Food Safe (MOFS) coalition. We joined MOFS because it reflects the collective wisdom of consumer, advocacy, public health and victims of foodborne illness groups, and as such, it has earned the respect of policy-makers as they’ve worked to develop reasonable reform of FDA and its food oversight responsibilities.
The question, of course, has been and continues to be “What do we need to improve food safety?”
First, we need the agency, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), charged with oversight of 80 percent of the food in this country, to have the resources and authorities necessary to complete its tasks, but right now, FDA is saddled with a 1938 law that no longer can easily respond to America’s and the world’s food production systems.
So what’s the problem–enactment of this type of legislation should be easy! Well, not really, because everybody has their own ideas and nobody wants the changes to affect them. Meanwhile, the list of food recalls, sicknesses, health/financial impacts and deaths continues to grow. Staying with the status quo is really not an option.
As a food safety advocate who has watched Congress trying to build food safety legislation over the past nine years, S. 510 and H.R. 2749 are truly the result of bi-partisan work. Both bills have been sponsored and supported by leading Democrats and Republicans because most of our Congressional members realize the importance of this issue. Everybody eats, so everybody carries a risk for getting sick.
At the beginning of the 111th Congress, the food safety advocates–both consumer and industry–came together and basically said, “Let’s do something to stem the increasing number of food recalls and foodborne illnesses–let’s build a sturdy bill that simply addresses the most important points and get everyone to take that first step forward.” The House quickly passed its version of FDA food safety reform in July, 2009; the Senate moved its version out of committee in November 2009. Everything looked to be on track for an easy passage, but then S. 510 stalled.
Stalling by itself is not a bad thing–it gives everyone a chance to review their position and for compromises to be worked out. And that is what happened to S. 510. It got modified–the bill being brought to the floor tomorrow continues to be the result of collaborated work. It gives FDA a specific statutory mandate to prevent foodborne illness by:
· Requiring all food producing facilities to develop a food safety plan;
· Establishing a frequency of inspection for FDA food;
· Holding imported food to the same standards as food produced domestically;
· Setting standards for fresh fruits and vegetables that pose high risk for contamination;
· Improving coordination between federal, state and local food safety governmental offices;
· Developing traceability requirements so we have a better idea where the food is sold/produced;
· Providing FDA, for the first time, with mandatory recall authority.
Food safety impacts all of us. We absolutely must begin the task of reforming our outdated food safety systems. I found this out as I stood next to the bed of my dying grandson, Kevin Kowalcyk, and since then I have re-organized my life to help raise awareness about the food challenges of the 21st century.
S. 510 is a basic blueprint for reform. After its passage, much more work will need to be done to implement it successfully, and I, along with other S. 510 supporters, will be there– watching and suggesting solutions–so that improvement in food safety becomes a reality.
Last Thursday was Thanksgiving. I am thankful for the policy makers, regulators and food safety advocates who have supported the development of food safety legislation during the 111th Congress. I sincerely hope that tomorrow we will be successful in taking another step towards enacting a law that will provide improved food protections for American families.