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Published on Dec 03, 2010 by Edgar Snyder

The Pros and Cons of the New Food Safety Bill

Food Safety Bill

A few days ago, the Senate passed a bill that's supposed to improve food safety in our country. Food safety advocates have started to weigh in on the bill's strengths and weaknesses, and I think their analysis is a good place to start examining what exactly this legislation might accomplish.

Here's what they said is good:

  • If the bill is signed into law, it would give the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the power to order a recall for foods it thinks are contaminated. Currently, the FDA can request a recall, but it must be officially issued by the manufacturer.
  • The bill would make it easier to find the source of food contamination. Also, it would require food producers to maintain written food safety plans that the government can access.

Here's what advocates don't like:

  • The FDA still doesn't have the power to file criminal charges against companies that knowingly put contaminated food on the market.
  • The inspections ordered by the bill aren't frequent enough, critics say. High-risk facilities would be inspected every three years and all others would be inspected every five years.
  • The bill doesn’t put enough responsibility on the FDA to inspect food that comes into the United States at its border. As it stands, importers verify that food from abroad meets U.S. safety guidelines instead of the FDA taking an active role.

Other criticisms were directed at the food safety industry in general, not just the bill. Among advocates' complaints were:

  • The FDA and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) should be integrated. The FDA regulates all food products except meat and poultry, which are overseen by the USDA. Currently, that means that the FDA doesn't have the ability to catch certain problems before they occur. In addition, the USDA has far more inspectors, something the FDA needs. A USDA inspector always has to be present at a processing facility while food is being processed.
  • Technology should be used to assist USDA inspections. For example, using robots instead of handlers to inspect meat would cut down on cross-contamination. This would also mean that an inspector doesn’t have to be present at all times.
  • Regulation needs to focus on farms in order to really impact food safety.

This legislation seems to address some important issues when it comes to food safety, but hopefully it's just the first step. The number of recent food recalls and food poisoning outbreaks, as well as the serious violations found at some facilities, make it clear that there's still a lot of room for improvement.

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