You may have heard this statistic in
the news recently: According to the CDC, there are 5,000
deaths related to foodborne diseases in the United States each year.
These fatalities occur out of the estimated 76 million cases of
foodborne disease and 325,000 hospitalizations annually. But are
these deaths something that government regulation can help prevent?
Enter the Food Safety Modernization Act, the first major overhaul of
food safety provisions by the Food and Drug Administration since
Introduced in 2009, the bill passed in
the Senate on November 30 and will now go on to be voted on in the
House. So what would the Act do if it passes? Perhaps most
importantly, it gives the FDA the power to order recalls of tainted
food. Currently, the “voluntary recalls” that you hear about on
the news are indeed voluntary—the FDA can only ask companies to
take that action. The Act would also require more frequent inspects
of food manufacturers by the FDA, that manufacturers and processors
have food safety plans, and that the FDA create a program to trace
outbreaks more quickly to their source.
However, there are two major roadblocks
right now—one is whether a technical flaw might stop the law in its
tracks, and the other is an opposition that states that the Act
wouldn’t really do what it purports to do. After the bill passed
73 to 25 in the Senate, the congressional backers of the legislation
realized that they might have made a blunder. The bill in
part authorizes the FDA to assess fees on food producers and
importers that fail inspections—which is a revenue-raising measure,
a type of law-making that according to the Constitution must
originate in the House. But lawmakers are currently working to fix
this, despite some additional concerns over a last-minute
amendment that exempts small farms.
For a law designed to keep us safer,
what is the opposition saying? Taking into account the bill’s $1.4
billion four-year cost, some are saying that it is a waste of
taxpayer money without the ability to do much in terms of detection
and inspection, and potentially harming smaller food producers by
forcing them to spend too much on compliance. And some simply see
the provision as government overreach; talk show host Glenn Beck even
suggested that the government is trying to convert more consumers
to vegetarianism by raising the price of meat.
So will the Food Safety Modernization
Act help prevent some of these 5,000 annual deaths, or is it simply
creating new layers of bureaucracy? Especially for those who have
been affected by foodborne illness, the bill at least seems to be a
step in the right direction. Also consider that if it works
correctly, the law could ultimately prevent large losses for
companies in the future due to lawsuits. But as its final version is
still in flux, we will just have to wait and see.