Tougher food inspections in Georgia

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The Georgia Senate, no doubt spurred by a massive recall that has torpedoed sales of one of the state's leading agricultural products, approved without a dissenting vote Wednesday a food-safety bill. The legislation clearly is designed to restore consumer confidence in the wake of a salmonella outbreak traced to a peanut processing plant in the state. The bill, now before the House, significantly strengthens the state's current food safety inspection rules, but it does not go far enough. Stronger legislation is required.

The bill, passed on a 50-0 vote, would mandate that makers of food products report any contamination of their product uncovered by testing within 24 hours to state inspectors. The requirement would be the first in the nation to require such internal reporting.

The bill is certainly welcome in the wake of a salmonella outbreak that reportedly has claimed several lives and made hundreds of individuals across the nation ill. Investigators allege that the Peanut Corp. of America's plant in south Georgia knowingly allowed products containing salmonella to be shipped to the marketplace after internal tests indicated they were contaminated. If the reporting requirement in the bill approved by the Senate had been law, it is highly unlikely such shipments would have taken place.

The public response to the massive recalls prompted by salmonella traced to the processing plant has been as rapid as it has been devastating to Georgia. The state is the nation's largest peanut producer. About 50,000 people work in the industry that has an estimated $2.5 billion impact on the state.

Consumer sales of processed peanut products -- peanut butter used in crackers, ice cream, candy, etc. -- have declined precipitously in the wake of the recalls. The sale of other peanut products not implicated by the recall have plummeted as well. The state can ill afford the losses, and the legislation that emerged from the House is designed to instill consumer confidence.

It may or may not accomplish that goal. Consumers are notoriously wary of products even remotely linked to recall, sickness and, possibly, death. Moreover, the legislation passed by the Georgia House is flawed. As written, it allows food processors to escape the 24-hour reporting requirement if the company submits a safety plan that is approved by the state. Trouble is, the bill does not include an adequate definition of what such plans should include.

The food inspection bill now before the House is merely adequate. If exemptions are to be allowed, the legislation should include strict requirements governing safety plans presented to the state. The House is likely to take up the bill next week. It should act promptly to strengthen food safety inspections in the state, but not so quickly that a loophole that allows corporations to evade the intent of the new law goes unchallenged.

 

February 20, 2009

 

 

 

The Georgia Senate, no doubt spurred by a massive recall that has torpedoed sales of one of the state's leading agricultural products, approved without a dissenting vote Wednesday a food-safety bill. The legislation clearly is designed to restore consumer confidence in the wake of a salmonella outbreak traced to a peanut processing plant in the state. The bill, now before the House, significantly strengthens the state's current food safety inspection rules, but it does not go far enough. Stronger legislation is required.

The bill, passed on a 50-0 vote, would mandate that makers of food products report any contamination of their product uncovered by testing within 24 hours to state inspectors. The requirement would be the first in the nation to require such internal reporting.

The bill is certainly welcome in the wake of a salmonella outbreak that reportedly has claimed several lives and made hundreds of individuals across the nation ill. Investigators allege that the Peanut Corp. of America's plant in south Georgia knowingly allowed products containing salmonella to be shipped to the marketplace after internal tests indicated they were contaminated. If the reporting requirement in the bill approved by the Senate had been law, it is highly unlikely such shipments would have taken place.

The public response to the massive recalls prompted by salmonella traced to the processing plant has been as rapid as it has been devastating to Georgia. The state is the nation's largest peanut producer. About 50,000 people work in the industry that has an estimated $2.5 billion impact on the state.

Consumer sales of processed peanut products -- peanut butter used in crackers, ice cream, candy, etc. -- have declined precipitously in the wake of the recalls. The sale of other peanut products not implicated by the recall have plummeted as well. The state can ill afford the losses, and the legislation that emerged from the House is designed to instill consumer confidence.

It may or may not accomplish that goal. Consumers are notoriously wary of products even remotely linked to recall, sickness and, possibly, death. Moreover, the legislation passed by the Georgia House is flawed. As written, it allows food processors to escape the 24-hour reporting requirement if the company submits a safety plan that is approved by the state. Trouble is, the bill does not include an adequate definition of what such plans should include.

The food inspection bill now before the House is merely adequate. If exemptions are to be allowed, the legislation should include strict requirements governing safety plans presented to the state. The House is likely to take up the bill next week. It should act promptly to strengthen food safety inspections in the state, but not so quickly that a loophole that allows corporations to evade the intent of the new law goes unchallenged.

 

February 20, 2009

 

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