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Food safety legislation necessary

December 9, 2010 - Mary Ann Heath
“Rodents, maggots and seeping manure.” Mmmmmmmm, yummy. 

Legislators recently penned a new law aimed at protecting consumers from food grown in conditions just like this. The bill, which on the surface seems like a no-brainer, has sparked a little controversy, most of which centers around giving the government too much power and its potential to harm smaller producers. But the bill, created in reaction to thousands of illnesses and even death caused by foodborne illnesses, is needed.

I’m not fond of eating anything produced in an environment that includes “rodents, maggots and seeping manure.” Are you? 

The Food and Drug Administration discovered “rodent, bug and wild bird infestations” as well as “uncontained manure” in its investigation of egg farms after a Salmonella outbreak sickened thousands earlier in the year. The farms voluntarily recalled billions of eggs. What kind of conditions are acceptable for growing food that makes its way to millions of tables across the nation? 

This recall was one of several in recent years, (peanuts, tomatoes, lettuce, to name a few) which prompted lawmakers to draft the Food Safety Modernization Act aimed at protecting consumers.  Contrary to what some are saying, the bill does not allow for the government to dictate what consumers eat — unless you count enacting certain guidelines to ensure the food you eat is safe, and grown in a clean, sanitary environment.

As for small-time producers, a new amendment has been added to the bill especially for their protection. A family-scale exemption called the Tester Amendment exempts businesses that sell goods directly to consumers and conduct less than $500,000 in annual sales. 

The bill is split up into four sections: Improving the capacity to prevent food safety problems, improving capacity to detect and respond to food safety problems, improving the safety of imported food and miscellaneous provisions. 

The bill:

• Gives the FDA the authority to recall foods it believes are tainted. Currently, all recalls are voluntary. 

• Food producers are required to draft written food safety plans. These are to be accessible to the government in the case of an emergency. The plans must also include a hazard analysis, and a possible plan for implementing corrective measures (I.E. a worst-case scenario plan). 

• The Secretary of Health and Human Services is also required to develop a new system for tracing food that streamlines the process, so the source of contaminated food is easier to find when an outbreak occurs. 

• Food importers are also required to verify the safety of imported food by ensuring it follows all U.S. safety guidelines. 

To me, most of the provisions set forth in the new bill are things I hope most food producers are doing already. Producers should have food safety plans, especially if they are feeding thousands across the nation. Requiring a hazard analysis and a plan for possible corrective measures is simply proactive. Instead of waiting to see if the bird feces hits the fan, producers are required to already know what they are going to do when it does. 

Beside all of this, the bill was not drafted out of nowhere with the simple intention of enacting more restrictions and creating paperwork. Rather, it was created in reaction to several outbreaks, thousands of illnesses and the many deaths that have occurred. Some deem the guidelines “unneccesary,” but obviously they are if some of the U.S.’ largest producers aren’t following simple safety procedures. 

Before the salmonella outbreak occurred, the egg producer in Iowa had a long list of violations. But even though they’ve been fined on numerous occasions, problems have continued to arise. According to a story in the Washington Post, the DeCoster family operation that owns the Iowa farm, has withstood “a string of reprimands, penalties and complaints about its performance in several states.”

The story highlights some of the complaints, including animal cruelty, health and safety violations, undocumented workers, a sexually hostile work environment (including rape and sexual assault by supervisors) and Occupational Health and Safety Administration violations. In 2001, the Iowa supreme court ruled DeCoster was a “repeat violator” of state environmental laws.   The Food Safety Modernization Act isn’t meant to harm smaller producers, or let the government decide what food we put on our tables. It’s meant to keep large-scale producers like the DeCoster family in line. 


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