Food safety: How to keep our global menu off the recall list
As the food recall list grows and food imports flood into the US, it may be time to revamp America's 70-year-old laws on food safety.
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The LGMA initiated safety standards for growing and harvesting produce that went well beyond what the federal government required. Its members agreed to abide by enforceable third-party audits and inspections (including surprise inspections) multiple times a year.Skip to next paragraph
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"Our industry went through a door that it will never go back through," says Tom Nunes, vice president of operations for The Nunes Company, a large grower-shipper based in Salinas, Calif., that markets under the Foxy brand.
For all its success, however, the LGMA remains voluntary and is confined to two states: California and Arizona.
By reforming the FDA, Congress's food-safety advocates hoped to create a level playing field with national standards for all producers.
In 2009, the House passed a bill giving the FDA authority to make mandatory recalls and requiring more frequent inspections, a food-safety plan from each food-processing facility, and an annual registration fee from companies.
The new legislation would also make it easier to trace food from farm to fork, as the industry likes to put it. This is hard enough to do within the US when, say, a wholesaler mixes batches of tomatoes to get uniform color. For importers, it could mean having to identify the farmer in Sri Lanka who grew the peppercorns used to flavor a TV dinner, being expected to know that those peppercorns were not dried in the same shed where the farmer keeps his pesticides, and needing to find out whether the flatbed truck that brought the peppercorns to market also sometimes transports manure.
The Senate was poised to pass a similar, though somewhat watered-down, bill in September. It had bipartisan cosponsors and important support from grocers, food marketers, and consumer groups. Small farmers did complain, worried about the increased paperwork and costs of government intervention.
Despite the publicity surrounding the huge egg recall in August, the bill went nowhere after Sen. Tom Coburn (R) of Oklahoma raised concerns about the cost of the bill. If the bill isn't passed in Congress's lame-duck session after the elections, food-safety advocates will have to start afresh in both houses.
Although the bill would be a first big step in strengthening the FDA, food-safety advocates say much more needs to be done. In a major report in June from the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council, a panel suggested that the FDA needs a risk-based system in which the agency focuses its scarce resources where they're needed the most.