In a rare turn of political events, new legislation granting the FDA greater powers and control over food recalls has been met with support from both political parties, food safety advocacy groups, the food industry and the general public.
A recent Pew Charitable Trust survey found that over 90% of people polled support the food safety legislation that, if signed into law, would give the FDA new powers to enact food recalls, without industry cooperation, improve monitoring and testing of imported foods and enforce new more stringent guidelines on vegetables, fruits and eggs.
Across the board public support for the legislation is strong even in light of added expenses that will most likely increase prices of the affected foods. It seems consumers want their food to be feces and pathogen free even if it means spending a little more. And for the food industry, spending a little extra on precautions could help to avoid expensive, industry crushing recalls that have plagued food providers in recent years.
There is strong support from legislators who seek to address pubic demand for safer foods as well support from legislators with a tradition of protecting industry and agriculture. The 2009 recall of Salmonella contaminated peanut products processed by Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) cost the peanut industry over 25% of its overall business, regardless of whether the products were manufactured by PCA or not.
Put simply, bad food safety hurts innocent consumer victims, the industries and manufacturers that handle contaminated product and bad food safety hurts the American economy. Estimates for economic losses related to salmonellosis are at over one billion dollars. That is for just one type of foodborne illness. That estimate doesn’t even touch the surface of the expenses from foodborne illnesses caused by Norovirus, E. coli O157:H7, Listeria or any of the other 250 types of identified food poisonings. Nor does the estimated expense touch upon the lifelong costs caused by complications such as Guillian-Barre Syndrome, reactive arthritis and hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a devastating blood disease caused by the food pathogen E. coli.
The overall cost of the Senate’s bill hasn’t been calculated yet, but compared to the less expansive and expensive House of Representatives bill’s $3.7 billion over five years, the Senate version’s price tag is likely to be significantly more. Hopefully the unison support for the food safety legislation will continue when it comes to properly providing the funds necessary to back up the FDA’s new powers and responsibilities.
If our country’s legislators can maintain this enthusiasm and focus for our nation’s food supply, we could experience a fundamental change in our safety system. It is still early but encouraging that after being ignored for decades, the problems with our food safety net are finally being identified and addressed.