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Vote for Safer Food

July 30, 2009

Far too many Americans are falling ill after eating foods tainted with salmonella, E. coli and other pathogens. The Food and Drug Administration, which is charged with protecting much of the nation’s food supply, doesn’t have the authority or the tools to do its job. The House of Representatives can start to fix that problem if it votes this week to approve the Food Safety Enhancement Act. Under the current system, the F.D.A. can only try to coax a food production facility to voluntarily recall its product after people have grown sick or even died. The legislation, the best in years, would give the agency a great deal more power and responsibility to prevent such outbreaks. The F.D.A. would finally have the authority to set strong science-based safety standards for the growing, harvesting and transporting of both domestic and imported food. The agency would then require each food production facility to come up with the best safety plan showing how it would meet those standards.

To investigate possible food problems, the F.D.A. would be able to demand far more information during inspections, and it would be required to set up a process for tagging food to make it easier to trace the source of a food-borne illness. The tomato business was devastated last year when tomatoes were blamed for an outbreak of salmonella that was really caused by tainted jalapeño and other peppers. Right now, several years or more can elapse before the F.D.A. does a full on-site inspection of a food facility. Most inspections are done by states, and many plants are not visited at all. Under this bill, so-called high-risk facilities — ones where there have been problems in the past or ones that handle easily spoiled items like raw seafood — would have to be inspected by the F.D.A. every 6 to 12 months. Lower-risk facilities, which deal with items like dry packaged products with no history of causing problems, would be inspected every 18 months to three years. For that reason, the F.D.A. will need more inspectors, but it is unclear whether new license fees of $500 a year per food facility will be enough to pay for them. The bill does not solve all of the problems of food safety, of course.

There will still be a patchwork of federal inspection programs done by a variety of different agencies. In the future, one food agency that works for consumers and food producers makes more sense. Right now, the F.D.A. has the responsibility for 80 percent of the nation’s food supply, and this bill would give it a lot more of the muscle it needs to do that job. This article taken from:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/30/opinion/30thu2.html

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