Despite well-publicized food recalls and continuous media scare stories, most Americans have confidence in the safety of the food they buy even though the regulatory structure that oversees our food supply was written in 1936.  This is why the 111th Congress enacted the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) which was signed into law by President Obama on January 4, 2011. 

This was Washington’s response to the food recalls that have been splashed across the front page in recent years.  Consumers went back to trusting their food supply confident that new science-based regulations were now in effect to keep them safe.   The problem is that mounting government budget deficits have prevented many of the proposed reforms from being implemented.

Deirdre Schlunegger, the head of an organization named “STOP Foodborne Illness,” warned recently on the Huffington Post website that the government won’t have enough money next year to implement the new safety inspections authorized by the Food Safety Modernization Act. Ms. Schlunegger says food safety should come first among our priorities, not after people have gotten sick. She blames federal budget cuts demanded by Republicans for preventing the food protection agencies from carrying out the new regulations. She says, “Farmers, food producers, transporters, and retailers of food products in this country need to be regulated by stricter laws that have deeper consequences.”

More regulations are not the answer. The National Academy of Science lists 15 federal government agencies as having food safety regulatory responsibilities. The result is major gaps and overlaps in domestic and imported food safety regulations. The National Academy of Science, in a 2010 study, recommended a single food service agency be created to handle all food safety issues. While this might sound like a good idea, just look at what happened when we combined all national security authority under one agency.  The Department of Homeland Security now spends billions of dollars and enforces hundreds of regulations.

Then, there is the cost. The Congressional Budget Office estimated the cost of the new regulations at about $1.4 billion.  “Unfortunately, even with unlimited funding, the new food safety law wouldn’t give us much protection,” says Dennis Avery, with the Center for Global Food Issues.  “Salmonella bacteria are everywhere. Inspectors say they have never visited a cattle farm that did not harbor the deadly E. coli O157: H7.”  But as Avery points out, “The new food safety law focuses almost entirely on finding the sources of infection after the fact and punishing the food suppliers—but the dangerous bacteria would still infest much of our fruits, vegetables, meats, and eggs. The real answer, since we can’t eliminate the bacteria from nature, is to eliminate them from our food.”

Avery asserts that technology is the way we can protect our food. There are many techniques that can and should be implemented.  “The only path forward in food safety for the past 200 years has been such scientific improvements as pasteurization, canning, and freezing (to reduce spoilage), ‘artificial’ food additives, and other technologies that improve on nature.”

From food safety to child safety, regulations and proposed regulations are pouring out of Washington.  The safety of our food supply is one of the most important agricultural issues we have. People need to trust their food as well as the system that produces and distributes it. The heavy hand of government cannot provide or afford that safety.  Finding ways to produce, process, and distribute our food more safely is where our resources should be directed.

Source: Hoosier Ag Today