In our top 17 food safety stories of 2010, first place goes to the food safety bill, which was supported by an unusual alliance–including consumer advocates, grocery manufacturers and produce growers–and had bipartisan support in Congress, yet seemed to take forever to win approval:
In the end, we are just going to remember that the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act passed in 2010. And we will come to rely upon the basic protections it provides.
It’s true that there were enough twists and turns during the 111th Congress to leave food safety advocates with whiplash, but that’s why the legislative process is often compared to sausage making. It’s just something you might not want to watch all that closely.
Although the House of Representatives and the Senate had both passed the food safety legislation, the Senate’s version was a revenue-raising bill and the U.S. Constitution says all revenue-raising bills must originate in the House.
In the end, it was H.R. 2751 that carried the food safety bill across the line, by unanimous consent in the Senate on Dec. 19 and by a 215-to-144 vote in the House on Dec. 21. It was delivered to President Obama, vacationing in Hawaii, on Dec. 29.
In the end, it was a legislative hat trick performed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that saved the measure. Late on that Sunday night, he replaced the original language of H.R. 2751, which had been a “cash for clunkers” bill and used it as a “vehicle” for S. 510.
Reid’s legislative maneuver was a stunning success, and fulfilled a pledge he made in June 2009 to Nevada resident Linda Rivera and her family. “As I work on this legislation it will be with the goal of ensuring that more families do not suffer as you do now,” wrote Reid.
Rivera is among the most seriously injured of 80 people in 31 states who were infected with the dangerous E. coli O157:H7 bacteria after eating Nestle Toll House raw cookie dough.
Once signed by the President, which is expected shortly, the bill will begin to make a difference almost immediately. Here are some examples:
- The Food and Drug Administration finally will have the power to order the recall of contaminated foods.
- Food industry employees reporting violations to the FDA will have whistleblower’s protection.
- FDA hiring and training can begin to ramp up to a staff of 4,000 in 2011 and 5,000 in 2012 to do food safety work. Those new hires will double today’s levels in three years.
- FDA will have the power to inspect company records related to food.
Other provisions in the new law will take longer to implement. The Health & Human Services Secretary will have the power to set fees for inspections, recalls, a voluntary qualified importer program, and for importer re-inspections.
Through the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, the HHS Secretary is charged with improving foodborne illness surveillance systems to enhance collection, analysis, reporting and usefulness of data on foodborne illness.
The new food safety laws calls for risk-based inspections and a product tracing system that can track and trace food offered for import to the U.S.–for the first time subjecting imported foods to the same standards as those produced domestically.
It also calls for the HHS Secretary to issue “guidance” to reduce the risk from the most significant foodborne contaminants, and to establish “minimum standards” for safe production and harvesting of fruits and vegetables.
Exempt from the 89-page bill are small farms and mom-and-pop producers that sell directly to consumers, including roadside stands, farmers’ markets and participants in community supported agricultural programs.
The landmark legislation amends the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, which is enforced by FDA.
The Food Safety News Top 17 Stories of 2010:
1. Food safety legislation that will give the FDA authority to recall contaminated food, test more widely for dangerous pathogens and improve its ability to trace outbreaks to their source was approved and sent to the President.
2. Some regulatory proposals seemed to be on hold, or stuck in a bottleneck, at the USDA.
3. Despite assurances to the contrary, questions remain about the safety of Gulf seafood, following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
4. The recall of more than 500 million eggs after health authorities traced Salmonella that sickened more than 1,900 to two Iowa producers.
5. A dance instructor’s battle with E. coli after eating a contaminated hamburger brought a Pulitzer and a settlement.
6. The seizure of raw-milk cheese from a Washington state farm contaminated with Listeria illustrated the emotional debate over whether food produced on small farms is safer than food produced by agribusiness.
7. To solve a Salmonella Montevideo outbreak that infected 272 people in 44 states and Washington D.C., federal and state health authorities had to follow a pepper trail from a Rhode Island ready-to-eat meat company to Vietnam.
8. Opponents of food safety regulation may feel threatened by what they imagine is heavy-handed government, but a report from the Inspector General found that except for meat, most food in this country goes uninspected.
9. In the ongoing controversy over whether unpasteurized milk is a right or a public health hazard, Wisconsin’s governor vetoed a bill he thought was too lax and Minnesota shut down a raw milk dairy with sanitation problems after its E. coli-contaminated milk infected eight people.
10. Dr. Elisabeth Hagen was given a recess appointment as Under Secretary for Food Safety and then finally confirmed by the Senate.
11. Another non-O157:H7 E. coli bacteria–the toxic E. coli O145–turned up in Yuma lettuce field and led to recalls of Romaine in 24 states.
12. Civil courts distributed insurance proceeds to victims and survivors of victims of the Peanut Corporation of America Salmonella outbreak, but there was still no criminal prosecution of PCA executives who al
legedly knew their peanut butter was contaminated but shipped it anyway.
13. A flavoring agent called hydrolyzed vegetable protein, or HVP, was contaminated with Salmonella and brought about the recall of 177 products–the largest recall of a single ingredient in 2010.
14. The FDA’s early detection tool, the Reportable Food Registry, proved to be a success.
15. Wyoming toyed with a “food freedom” approach to food safety by considering legislation that would give “cottage foods,” or other homemade products a free pass from regulation adn oversight.
16. It was sentiment vs. safety as Iowa wrestled with whether to exempt a popular restaurant from the state’s food code so that it could continue to make “loose meat” sandwiches with a potentially risky but long-used Maid-Rite cooking vessel.
17. The Drudge report crashed the Food Safety News site.