Strong food safety regulations are common sense

Teresa Green recently joined The National Consumers League as the Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow.  In her role, Teresa deals with a broad array of food issues including food labeling, truth in advertising, alcohol, child nutrition, food fraud and food safety. 

By Teresa Green, Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow

In the midst of a serious outbreak of Listeria, which has killed at least 13 people and left more than 70 others seriously ill, Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann visited a meat packing plant and called for fewer government regulations on the food industry. “We want to have safety,” Ms. Bachmann said, “but at the same time we want to have some common sense.”  When it comes to foodborne illnesses, safety and common sense is often the same thing: government oversight helps ensure a safer food supply.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that every, year roughly 48 million people, or 1 in 6 Americans, contract foodborne illnesses. Of those who get sick, 128,000 will be hospitalized and over 3,000 will die.  And for those who get better, foodborne illnesses can be far more than a stomach ache; they often result in long term health consequences, such as arthritis and kidney failure.

While some in the industry claim that regulations stifle growth, a powerful argument at a time when many Americans are struggling to find work, the truth is much more complicated. The cost of food recalls is high, averaging around $5 million. The resulting loss of consumer confidence in a brand can be equally devastating, not just to the brand in question, but to the whole food industry. Strict food safety rules will never create a perfect system, but they can ensure that as few outbreaks as possible occur.

Enter the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which was signed into law by President Obama on January 4, 2011. In the face of a globalized and increasingly technological food supply, FSMA provides a much-needed modernization of the food safety system in this country by shifting the emphasis away from responding to foodborne illness outbreaks. It does this by focusing on enhanced partnerships, import safety, prevention, and inspections, compliance and response. This means that the FDA will have greater authority to force a company to issue a recall and will be better able to trace an outbreak back to its source.

FSMA is good news for American consumers. When it is fully implemented, we will have a new food safety system that focuses on the prevention of, rather than the response to, foodborne pathogens.  This approach will mean a safer food supply and, as a result, fewer sick Americans.  Sounds like common sense to me.

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