Monday, November 15, 2010

Food Safety Modernization Act (S 510) Should Become Law

"The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, S. 510, will be brought to the floor of the U.S. Senate Wednesday for a procedural vote."
- Food Safety News (FSN), Could Food Safety Bill Clear Senate By Weekend?
I hope it passes. Dan Flynn at FSN recaps the bill:
  • Increases inspection of both foreign and domestic food processors
  • Grants FDA mandatory recall authority
  • Requires joint planning by FDA and USDA (e.g. who is responsible for egg safety? FDA or USDA?)
Unfortunately, opposition to this legislation is coming from members of the food activist community who are claiming that it will force small organic farmers and specialty producers into bankruptcy.

Small farmers won't go out of business. This is a scare tactic. They will manage costs, as they do already, by passing them on to their customers.

People can have any food they want - local, organic, non-GMO, artisan - any food. They just have to pay for it.

It is deplorable that with 1 in 5 Americans receiving food assistance in this country (and those, according to the USDA1, are only the ones who receive it, not everyone who is eligible), assistance that restricts purchase of organic/artisan/specialty food, we have a contingent that wants to exempt a tiny group of high-end profiteers from sensible food safety legislation.

If trying to get the healthiest food into the hands of more Americans was the intent behind blocking this legislation, I believe a more effective method, one that would boost production and sales of organic and specialty food is to allow food assistance monies (currently around $61 billion/year!) to be used for their purchase. This would increase the market overnight. Why not fight for that instead? I don't see this happening.

It saddens me to think that some food activists care more about their own privileged plate than the plates of millions of less fortunate Americans.

Here's a recent video by food safety activist and attorney Bill Marler discussing infection by E. coli 0157:H7, bacteria whose prevalence in our food supply is growing, owing to modern livestock production practices. This is one reason why food safety legislation is so needed right now, to counter the recent and growing threat from shiga-toxin producing bacteria (which I discussed in 4 parts, starting here), among other food safety threats.

1 USDA: The Food Assistance Landscape, 2008 Annual Report


Perovskia said...

...the FDA doesn't have recall authority?

Bix said...

You noticed!

No, the FDA does not have recall authority. They can only ask a manufacturer to recall a food suspected of contamination. The manufacturer doesn't have to comply.

The FDA has been formally asking Congress for recall authority since 1999 (perhaps longer but I don't know). Business lobbies have prevented the bills' passings.

Americans seem to prefer this ... they have been voting to protect corporations' influence in government for many years.

Perovskia said...

Right, so, they'd rather get sick and die. Got it.

Autumn Hoverter, MS, RD said...

Well said Bix! If nothing else, the FDA MUST be granted recall authority! I'm am absolutely appalled by corporate involvement in governing practices. Here in Washington state, the American Beverage Association bought themselves an election by trotting out the few local businesses who would have been hurt by an temporary tax on "food" items such as candy and soda.

Kent said...

Your comments highlight the huge disconnect that exists in this country between farmers and consumers. Claiming that small farms are a "privileged" group means you do not understand a thing about small farm economics. The Environmental Working Group debunked the myths of Farm Subsidies making us all fat cats. The simple fact is that the majority of small farms continue to operate at a loss and off-farm jobs support the farmers "Farming Habit".

Our farm would not be operating if my wife and I did not have jobs off the farm. Yet we supply 45 families with the bulk of their produce in the fresh food desert we live in.

The thought that the small farmers can raise prices is a joke. The huge industrial farms can absorb the cost easily since it would be a minor fraction of their overall operating costs. For a small farmer the costs can easily exceed a year or two of revenue. If the price of local fresh produce from a small farm goes up, consumers will turn to other alternatives like the cheap over processed junk spewed out by McD's.

Go to a local farmers market and talk with the farmers, find out how big their operation is. You will be surprised that the majority of the farms in this country are small and not self sufficient without off-farm employment. However it is the small family farms that produce the best, freshest, healthiest and most unique products. Small farmers are the ones that are producing the most unique items desired by chefs. Heirlooms varities would likely disappear for good from the supply chain.

The cost of entry to this business will jump incredibly for small farmers and we will accelerate the decline of the small family farm until it is something only found in history books. Our food choices will go down and quality and health will go down.

Bix said...

People who grow and consume "the best, freshest, healthiest and most unique products" are, in my mind, privileged. Why don't they think that is wonderful?

There are tens of millions of vulnerable Americans eating food right now that could have been made safer by the provisions in this legislation ... years ago. But some people don't give a damn ...

- They don't give a damn about low-income seniors who are lucky to find transportation to a big-box grocery store let alone a farmers market ... who have difficulty recalling the names of family let alone the names of farmers who supply their eggs, meat, and lettuce.

- They don't give a damn about the 40 million Americans living in poverty, about the millions who receive food assistance which doesn't pay for "the best, freshest, healthiest and most unique products."

- They don't give a damn about the child eating a sandwich made with some of Stewart Parnell's salmonella peanut butter ... made from nuts stored in mold- and feces-infected warehouses. Those nine deaths could have been prevented by inspections for which this legislation provides.

It saddens me that people who grow and consume the best food in this country seek to block legislation intended to protect the millions of Americans whose food options are at this moment restricted.

Bix said...

Some people have been asking ...
Yes, Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey is a cosponsor on this Bill.

lucy said...

Actually, The FDA can only ask a manufacturer to recall a food suspected of contamination.Thanks for sharing.

Bix said...

By a vote of 74 to 25 today, the Senate voted for cloture on S. 510, The Food Safety Modernization Act. That means the bill must be voted on by the full Senate within 60 days. All amendments (Tester, bisphenol A) must be completed by that time.

Bix said...

About small farms:

"It was selling spinach wholesale from a small, organic farm that caused the 2006 spinach outbreak. Twenty-five acres of an organic spinach farm sold to a wholesaler, who sold to a manufacturer. The fecal contamination with E. coli O157:H7 was introduced at the spinach farm and amplified at manufacturer."

- Bill Marler

anrosh said...

"It saddens me that people who grow and consume the best food in this country seek to block legislation intended to protect the millions of Americans whose food options are at this moment restricted." - it is not just about food bix, you can attribute this to most of the things - the reason for poverty in developing countries , the reason for slavery, the reason for loopholes in the tax laws for the rich to take advantage, the pharmaceuticals insurance nexus, planned obsolecence, discrimination by design ..the list is endless"