ON Tuesday, August 04, 2009 AT 11:10PM
Food safety: More regulation
good, as long as it doesn't go too far
of Article: http://www.yakima-herald.com/stories/2009/08/04/food-safety-more-regulation-good-as-long-as-it-doesn-t-go-too-far
Herald-Republic editorial board
appears in the Aug. 5, 2009, Yakima Herald-Republic
Legislation to improve
food-safety rules has cleared the House and is on its way to the Senate.
With recent high-profile incidents including the 2006 distribution of E.
coli-contaminated spinach and the more recent salmonella traced to
pistachios, giving the government greater powers in terms of food
inspections and recall of tainted foods seems appropriate.
However, there are
aspects of the legislation that require further scrutiny and need to be
addressed when the Senate takes up the measure this fall.
First, here's what the
Food Safety Enhancement Act offers in hopes of restoring confidence in our
nation's food supply:
Under the new
legislation, the FDA would gain greater authority to recall a product after
consumers become sick or die. Currently, the federal agency can only coax a
food-production facility to recall a product.
For facilities that are
deemed high-risk in terms of food contamination, the FDA would be required
to make inspections every six to 12 months. These types of plants include
those with a history of food-safety problems or those that handle food
products that spoil easily.
plants would be inspected at least once every three years. Right now, some
facilities may go a decade or longer before undergoing a federal
The bill would require an
annual fee of $500 from food-processing plants to pay for the added
inspections, with a cap of $175,000 for companies with multiple plants. The
fees, though, would cover only 40 percent of the cost for these added
Also required in the
legislation would be new, elaborate safety programs developed by processing
plants to solve food-safety problems before they occur and a new system to
be created by the FDA to trace food products and ingredients.
New authority for the FDA
is good news, not only for consumers but for food producers, too. We do not
want to see another scare like the one that devastated the tomato industry
last year when tomatoes were blamed for a salmonella outbreak that actually
had been caused by tainted peppers.
What worries us about
this legislation are the proposed, but not yet defined, regulations
governing how produce is grown and harvested. These rules, which the FDA
would formulate over the next three years, would focus on pathogens and how
they enter the food supply.
However, since a majority
of Yakima Valley's food products, namely tree fruits, are grown far off the
ground, problems associated with ground-borne pathogens are not much of an
issue. As for potatoes being grown in the region, most of the crop is
processed, eliminating the possibility of food-borne illness.
Also, the legislation
allows the FDA to make quarantines of wide geographic areas whenever a
foodborne outbreak occurs. As witnessed by the tomato scare, mistakes are
made and an unwarranted quarantine could have devastating effects upon
growers and processors. The quarantine provision is necessary, but its
expansive reach should be limited.
As for food-safety
inspections, fruit packers in Central Washington already face numerous
audits imposed by large retail chains both here and abroad. If the proposed
federal inspection requirements would help reduce these audits by retail
chains, that would be welcome. Currently, fruit packers face as many as
five audits annually.
While the legislation
passed by the House considerably strengthens the safety of our nation's
food supply, the Senate still needs to modify the measure so its
regulations don't overreach and cause more hassle than good.
* Members of the
Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Michael Shepard, Bob Crider,
Spencer Hatton and Karen Troianello.