Monday, February 09, 2009

We Need One Agency Whose Job It Is To Protect Our Food. We Need It Now.

Having worked in engineering for 8 years, I know that a patch applied to fix a failure is often another failure-in-the-making. You need the patch to continue operating, but you also need the redesign.

Patches create stress concentrations that lead to more cracks later. Patches don't address the weakness of the original design. Redesigns, if done well, are lighter in weight, more efficient, and, yes, more costly up front. But they provide cost savings in the long run, especially when they prevent breaks such as we've seen in food safety in the last few years.

We need to redesign the food safety apparatus in this country. We have to stop depending on patches, as we have for the last 10 years. A beautiful redesign that debuted one Food Safety Administration, consolidating the food safety efforts of over 12 separate agencies, was introduced in 1999. That one agency had recall authority, more enforcement power, more resources for inspections, both at home and abroad. It may very well have prevented the melamine-in-pet-food catastrophe, since it recognizes that inputs used for pets and livestock are essentially inputs to the human food supply. Nothing came of it. People only pay attention to the food supply when there's a crisis.

I think it's a mistake to spend all our current crisis-energy on just a patch. The right thing to do is fix the break, and start redesigning - now. We need one agency in this country whose job it is to protect our food supply. We need it now.

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