Food Safety: Sure There’s a Bill but Will It Be Enforced?

Among the gloomy headlines of 2010, foodborne illnesses ranked high.
In the midst of E. coli-tainted lettuce in April, bug-infested baby
formula in September, and celery that killed four people in October,
the biggest story was the more than half a billion Salmonella-infected
eggs that came from two factory farms in Iowa and sickened 2,000
across the country. But 2010 was not an anomaly. According to the CDC,
foodborne diseases sicken about 48 million Americans each year – one
in six of us. About 3,000 people die from the diseases each year, and
128,000 are hospitalized.

So when President Obama signed the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act
into law on his first day back from his holiday vacation, many across
the country let out a collective sigh of relief. Long overdue, this
legislation is the first major overhaul of the Food and Drug
Administration’s food safety responsibilities since 1938 and is a
first step towards modernizing FDA’s food safety program. The law
covers foods regulated by the FDA, including produce, processed foods
and shelled eggs but does not cover meat, poultry, or processed egg
products that are regulated by the USDA. 

Two provisions of the new law take effect immediately: mandatory
recall authority for the FDA when a food manufacturer refuses to
initiate a product recall voluntarily, and enhanced authority for FDA
inspectors to review a company’s food safety records if they suspect
that the firm is putting adulterated product into commerce. It also
strengthens the FDA’s ability to oversee imported food.

For those of us who have been working on this legislation for more
than two years, it was a real roller coaster ride. This bill came back
from the dead more times than I would like to count. It is certainly
not as strong as we had hoped, but considering the hurdles, it is a
step in the right direction. It survived massive online campaigns
funded by the economic interests opposing it falsely claiming the
legislation would outlaw backyard gardens and farmers markets,
partisan battles over everything except food safety, and finally a
procedural snafu that forced both the House and the Senate to pass the
bill multiple times.

That the legislation survived is due to the hard work of many
organizations and tens of thousands of concerned citizens who wrote
letters to their legislators and editors, signed petitions and spoke
out at public forums. And a spectrum of groups with diverse interests
ranging from consumer advocates like Food & Water Watch to a variety
of small farm and sustainable agriculture groups rolled up their
sleeves to make the bill stronger — in direct opposition to the
powerful industrialized food industry. 

But the struggle for a better food safety program at FDA is far from
over. In fact, in many ways it has just begun. It will take several
years to put the law into effect and Congress will have to fund the
agency over the next five years to give the FDA the resources it needs
to implement and enforce the law.

There was a lot of controversy and discussion about the impact this
law will have on small farms and small food processors. Food & Water
Watch and many other groups advocated for a provision in the bill to
protect small processors and farmers from regulations that would be
burdensome for them. Thankfully, these provisions made it into law,
but the produce industry is fighting hard to undo the protections
granted to small farmers and Republicans have vowed to block funding
to the FDA to implement the rules and hire new inspectors.

Now more than ever, we need the public to be engaged in what’s
happening in Congress and speak up on keeping our food supply safe.
Although bickering in Congress will make the implementation of the
food safety law difficult, and the FDA may not always get the details
right on the first try, we need to keep working to hold our government
accountable to us instead of the mega-corporations have created a food
system that quite literally makes us sick.  

The most important thing people who care about safe food should do is
pay attention to what happens next. Keep the pressure on your
legislators to make sure that FDA inspects large food processors more
often and implements the new law properly and stay informed by signing
up for alerts from Food and Water Watch or other organizations that
support a safe, healthy food system.

This is a guest post from Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch.  Click here for more information.

Wenonah Hauter is the Executive Director of Food & Water Watch. She has worked extensively on energy, food, water and environmental issues at the national, state and local level. Experienced in developing policy positions and legislative strategies, she is also a skilled and accomplished organizer, having lobbied and developed grassroots field strategy and action plans. From 1997 to 2005 she served as Director of Public Citizen‚ Energy and Environment Program, which focused on water, food, and energy policy. 

by stevendepolo
By Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch


Jim Ven
Jim Vabout a year ago

thanks for sharing.

Rose N.
Past Member 7 years ago

Thank you for posting.

April Reeves
April Reeves7 years ago

What food safety?

The USDA and FDA have put far too much emphasis on foodborne pathogens and totally missed the sovereignty side. I see the commenters here haven't though.

Our food safety and sovereignty was stripped on Thursday with the USDumbAsses giving the green light to deregulated GM crops/plants/trees.

Stop screaming on the web. Stop screaming at Monsanto. You MUST take out the USDA and FDA. Period. Governments must be overhauled, just like Egypt, because we are being completely "herded" into mass thinking to suit corporate interests.

While I appreciate food safety as far as pathogens are concerned, it's such a tiny fraction of the big picture. It's meant to pull our efforts and notice away from what is really happening under our noses.

John Doe
james rico7 years ago

monsanto just go the right to go full speed with the GM crops so its even more important to go vegan. and even all the organic crops will be contaminated in fast order the higher up you eat like meat and other animal foods the less chance you will survive as that consentrates the damge they do. our corrupt corperate government made this happen maybe they will still get theeir produce from hot houses it save SS from growing broke as the gullible joe sixpact will get less of it if any at all and the parasites will make lots of money along the way.

Julie R.
Julie R7 years ago

The Republican Study Committee (RSC), a group composed of 175 House Republicans concerned with advancing conservative social and economic agendas, recently made several budget cut proposals to the U.S. House of Representatives that target organic farmers and the relatively inexpensive government programs that support them. At the same time, the group ignored the conventional agriculture subsidies that top $5 billion in taxpayer dollars every year, according to a recent report in the Des Moines Register.

Genetically modified crops will decimate the species that eats them. Tests have shown extremely high infant mortality rates, internal organ damage, and sterility. Even the crop yields are shown to decrease and the plants are diseased. Bill Gates is promoting GMOs and vaccinations a a way to decrease the world's population. Genetically modified organisms DO interact with human DNA--roundup ready crops change the intestinal bacteria that comprises most of your immune system. A new disease, Morgellons, is closely linked to GMOs. People with Morgellons have tested positive for presence of Agrobacterium Tumafaciens--a substance used in genetic modification of other creatures.

amageLearn more:

Terry Porter-fahey

Thanks for this article.

Kathleen D.
Kathleen D7 years ago

Health food stores and vitamin cottages have to constantly lobby for their right to offer alternative choices to individuals while the pharmaceutical manufacturers fight to close them down saying; 'they are undermining the safety of the American consumer'. I'll be damned if the FDA will dictate to me or any other American who wishes to make choices for 'their own' health.

Farmer's makets are being undermined because of the powerful corporatate lobbyists who buy politicians, and who want absolutely no competition. My God; I do hope people wake up now, and vote for the middle class and poor Americans of this country in 2012.

Pre-packaged foods are full of chemicals and high levels of sodium which is just one of the pre-cursors for developing high blood pressure and leading to stroke. Filthy conditions in many plants who package foods is another big problem and are generally not divulged until another outbreak of e'coli caused illnesses. Not enough oversight, not enough 'real' concern of the consumer, and not nearly enough regard for the informed individuals ensuring the right to make healthy choices vs. corporate power that has far too much influence in American lives, employment (as in outsourcing), diets, entertainment.

The American people are held captive to the very corporate gluteny and greed that outsources the very jobs Americans need and depend on enabling us to make our own choices.

Brian M.
Past Member 7 years ago

Monsanto basically owns the American government through all of the politcal payola it pours into our elected representatives pockets. Our government is the best that corporate money can buy, and Big Business is the only thing our government represents. We are all guinea pigs in Monsanto's GM food experiments. The two party system has not only failed to protect the American people; it has collaborated with our enemies.

Julia D.
Julia Doran7 years ago

There are other solutions. Whatever you do don't think the situation is cut and dried. There is always a good solution.

Doug D.
Doug D7 years ago

Outlaw GM food and we have a good start....