Food Safety Bill Summary: What It Means for You
It happened. The long-debated Food Safety Modernization Act (Senate Bill S.510), which I wrote to you about two weeks ago, passed in the House on Monday and is now due to be signed into law by President Obama in early 2011. The controversial bill, which is aimed at reducing the incidence of food borne illness, greatly expands the FDA’s authority over our food supply. The intention behind the bill is that fewer people will be harmed as a result of eating contaminated food. But we won’t know the full effects of the new regulations for months — or even years. From what I can tell, most people in the natural health community expect more negatives from this massive piece of legislation than positives. But for better or for worse, the bill will be the law of the land soon
The concern that many of us share is that the passing of the bill could lead to a host of “unintended” consequences. I’m worried that the bill leaves room for the FDA to enact policies that favor “Big Agra” at the expense of small farmers and food producers. The FDA will be given the power to set new regulations for producing and harvesting fresh produce, which could severely limit the availability of fresh, local produce. It’s very likely that the smaller producers who are the best source for such “real” foods will bear a disproportionate financial burden in order to comply with the regulations.
I truly hope that the Food Safety Bill will, in fact, put the bulk of the burden where it belongs — on large-scale industrial food producers. However I remain skeptical. Living in D.C., I know firsthand how this town works. Money talks…and the big food producers have lots of it. To be fair, the bill does contain exemptions for small farms and food facilities that do less than $500,000 in sales annually and sell most of their food locally. It is still unclear, however, whether these exemptions will be interpreted in a way that offers meaningful protection to small producers. There are tens of thousands of farms that exceed $500,000 in annual sales, but really still fit into the “small farm” category, and they are the ones most likely to be in jeopardy.
Any way you look at it, both history and common sense will tell you that the smaller producers are much less likely to cause widespread contamination our nation’s food supply. The salmonella and e. coli outbreaks we have seen in recent years in foods like spinach, eggs, peanut butter were all tied to large-scale food production facilities.
According to CDC estimates, 128,000 Americans are hospitalized and 3,000 die each year as a result of contracting a food borne illness. I want nothing more than this number to go down significantly. However, in my opinion, the FDA already had the necessary power and resources to combat food borne illness. They just need to get better at their job and less “cozy” with big food producers.
So what other changes can we, as consumers, expect to see as a result of the bill being passed?
1. FDA-issued food recalls
The bill gives the FDA the power to issue a food recall directly. In the past, the FDA had to ask the producer in question to voluntarily recall its product. Now, the FDA will be able to access food production facility records if they have “reason to believe” that there is a health risk posed. The FDA will also have the power to actually suspend production at a given facility if they suspect that it may pose a health risk to the public.
Take Away: This could be good if this new power is used against the big guys. However, it could be a nightmare if the broadly written “reason to believe” is used against the little guys.
2. Recall notices at the grocery store
Grocery stores will now be responsible for actively alerting customers of the latest FDA-issued food recalls. You may soon see recall notices placed right next to foods on grocery store shelves.
Take Away: Knowledge is power. I am all for consumers being in the know. However, once again, might smaller stores carry a disproportionate burden for issues ultimately caused by big food producers?
3. More funding for the FDA
The FDA will receive additional funding in order to manage its new responsibilities. The FDA will need some 18,000 new food inspectors in order to keep up with the bill’s mandate for increased inspections of food production facilities. “High-risk” facilities must now be inspected every three years, while low-risk facilities will be visited within seven years of the bill becoming law. The FDA will be required to report to Congress each year the frequency and cost of inspections, but the bill does not address how all these changes will be paid for.
Take Away: Bigger is not always better. The FDA’s budget will swell, as will its power and bureaucracy. Hopefully, the newly added agents will focus their attention at the real sources of problems.
What are your thoughts on the Food Safety Bill’s passing? Please share your comments below.
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Article updated on: December 24th, 2010