Members of the American Academy of Pediatrics wrote to the White House this week urging the release of key food safety rules — becoming the latest in a series of health, industry and consumer groups to call on the administration to get moving on implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act.
“As pediatricians, we are keenly aware that children are disproportionately bearing this burden – accounting for an estimated half of foodborne illness cases annually,” write the pediatricians, in a letter to the White House Chief of Staff, Jack Lew, as well as the director of the Office of Management and Budget, Jeffrey Zients. “Unfortunately, children are also among those most at risk of associated death and serious lifelong health complications from foodborne infections.”
The physicians note that it has been more than 18 months since President Obama signed the landmark FSMA into law, but most of the critical elements of the legislation have not been enacted. For approximately 10 months, rules drafted by the Food and Drug Administration that would require preventative controls for food processors, food safety standards for produce growers and increased oversight for imports have been stuck under review at the White House Office of Management and Budget.
The holdup has stakeholders scratching their heads wondering if the Obama administration is simply waiting until after the election to avoid the potential “job-killing” optics of releasing major regulations. Meanwhile, multistate foodborne illness outbreaks and nationwide product recalls continue to grab headlines and impact lives.
“The promise of the FSMA will not be realized unless its key provisions are implemented,” reads the letter. “Until then our nation’s children will be at continued risk for serious illnesses and some will die from eating the most common of foods.”
“The nation’s children can wait no longer for the sensible safeguards intended in the FSMA to be put in place,” continue the physicians. “[P]lease take action and release the rules that will help curb this dangerous public health threat.”
Why are the rules languishing under review? Officials at OMB have repeatedly said that the regulations are complicated and the details are being ironed out.
“We are working as expeditiously as possible to implement the food safety legislation we fought so hard for,” Moira Mack, a spokeswoman for OMB, recently told McClatchy. “When it comes to rules with this degree of importance and complexity, it is critical that we get it right.”
The letter is signed by doctors from Children’s Hospitals and the Mayo Clinic, infectious disease specialists and leading pediatricians from other renowned hospitals and medical schools. The group also sent a separate, identical letter to President Obama.