The new food safety law gives the U.S. food protection system a much-needed renovation. But in the face of budget shortages, getting these new rules off the drawing board and into practice may prove difficult.

That is the conclusion of a commentary on the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2010 (FSMA) published Thursday in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

The article calls FSMA “a remarkable step forward for the food safety system,” in that it strengthens regulation of imported foods, puts a greater emphasis on preventing foodborne illness before it begins, and allows the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to issue mandatory recalls of products.

However, the act lacks deadlines for implementing many of its reforms, the authors point out. And FDA will probably not be able to devote its ever-shrinking funds to programs without a concrete timeline.

“The big issue is going to be whether FDA will have enough money to do all these different things that the law authorizes them to do and tells them they need to do,” said Kate Stewart, lead author of the paper and fellow at the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law in an interview with Food Safety News.

Stewart says that while mandatory recall authority went into effective immediately and there are concrete deadlines for increasing import monitoring, no such incentives exist for scaling up food safety training programs for domestic producers, state agencies and foreign regulators, another requirement of the law.

Another shortcoming of the Act, the article says, is that it left food regulation responsibilities split between FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), instead of putting them under the jurisdiction of a single agency.

The Government Office of Accountability, the Institute of Medicine and many others have recommended that food inspections be combined under one authority. And while FSMA recommends greater coordination between FDA and USDA, it keeps their duties decidedly separate, says the article.

“I don’t think that there’s going to be any going back to make that a fix in the future,” said Stewart. “As much as it did great things for public health, this act sort of solidified this divide between FDA and USDA and they will continue to have pretty distinct…roles in ensuring food safety.”

Right now, USDA inspects meat, poultry and shelled eggs, while FDA is responsible for all other foods, including egg products, fruits and vegetables, dairy, nuts and fish — with the exception of catfish, which falls under USDA supervision. 

The commentary also points out that FSMA neglected to address USDA’s role in food protection. Although USDA receives more funding and conducts more rigorous testing of products under its control, it could still use an update, says Stewart.

“Now that we’re more concerned with (more diverse) hazards in meat, the USDA needs a fair bit of overhaul of its authority,” she says. “Not necessarily more or less authority, but different authority to use science of today to regulate food rather than science of the past few decades or even centuries.”

Moving forward, the commentary recommends that the FDA partner with government and industry both in the U.S. and abroad to achieve FSMA’s goals.

“International cooperation is needed to regulate food contaminants, monitor food safety, and assist developing countries in establishing food safety systems.”

  • Doc Mudd

    “International cooperation is needed to regulate food contaminants, monitor food safety, and assist developing countries in establishing food safety systems.”
    Yep, even as the Tester amendment moves our domestic food production ever nearer the romantically unhygienic medieval 3rd world laissez-faire commerce demanded by elitist foodies.
    Back to the fiefdom! Kumbaya, campers, kumbaya!!

  • JulieCJ

    S.510 was a disaster from the get go as it really had little to do with food safety and everything to do with food dominance. But, that aside, now it’s finally been discovered that there are huge errors in the bill that will result in any number of problems down the road (without even considering the funding aspect).
    My opinion of the whole mess is that the FDA and the USDA, are both corrupt to the bone. That is evidenced in their strict adherence to what big business and big money wants, regardless of the mandate they have to protect American health. I say that both agencies, especially in light of the duplication of effort and the odd distribution of duties, should be eliminated and a whole new agency created. The new agency will have anti-corruption rules in place so that the American public is PROTECTED instead of ignored.
    The new agency will be completely free of ‘ownership’ by Monsanto and other biotech companies that want to force-feed Americans their very band and very dangerous GMO products and will be completely free of ‘ownership’ by Big Pharma who also wants to poison America to feed their bottom line. Enough is enough, already!!
    Any employee of the new agency who takes money or gifts from ANY outside source should be fired on the spot! Americans have had enough of this kow-towing to big business in exchange for personal gain.
    American health is at an all time low – obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, the list is endless. This is, in no small part, because the FDA approves dangerous drugs (including and maybe especially vaccines) and they approve dangerous foodstuffs, namely genetically modified food, for both humans and animals that has turned grocery stores into minefields for those of us who want to eat for health.
    Abolish the FDA and USDA and start from scratch with a more responsive and CLEAN agency that is truly looking out for the American people!!!

  • Minkpuppy

    Julie CJ,
    Your comments about corruption in inspection is an insult to all of the many hard-working food and meat inspectors that pride themselves on their integrity and high ethical standards. Ethics rules are already in place in the FSIS and FDA. If you believe that all the inspectors are taking bribes and gifts, you’re sadly mistaken. My colleagues and I have to sign conflict of interest statements and undergo ethics training on a yearly basis. If we’re caught taking gifts or even in the appearance of taking gifts, we are subject to some pretty serious disciplinary actions up to and including termination of our jobs. I’ve seen it happen to a couple of inspectors and the rest of us were glad to see it. We’re not even allowed to have personal relationships with plant employees. Those jackasses that do screw up make all of us look bad but they are hardly representative of the Agencys as a whole. I haven’t met an “offer” yet that would risk my job over. It isn’t worth it. My co-workers will tell you the same.
    I feel one food safety agency is needed to get rid of the policy confusion and provide the right level of inspections according to plant history and the riskiness of the foods being produced. Right now there are 7 or 8 different agencies with some role in food safety and many of them have conflicting policies. That’s where the real problem is. Not “corruption”.
    Our Congress has allowed industry to dictate to the regulatory agencies by passing ineffective legislation that appears to give more power to the Agency. Then, when the industry turns around and sues the Agency for trying to enforce the rules, we find out that the rules never had any teeth to begin with.
    Let’s start by fixing that, eh? How about Congress gives us some laws that can actually be enforced instead of pandering to their big business cronies and donors? The real corruption is in Congress and nothing short of a total replacement of both parties will do any bit of good.
    But what do I know, I’m just a brain-washed tool of my government employers who knows nothing about what really goes on in the Agency.
    Minkpuppy, slave of the evil fascist food nazis