The new food safety bill that recently passed Congress was signed into law by President Obama on January 4, 2011. It is an important, if imperfect bill.
I’ll outline some of the provisions, and then share the feedback from Farm Sanctuary and PCRM about the pros and cons of this bill.
An Overview of the Food Safety Bill
(courtesy of the Huffington Post)
Under this bill, the FDA can issue a food recall without having to arrange a voluntary recall with the company in question. Companies that have a track record of recalls or safety violations may be fined for re-inspection. The FDA will also update safety performance standards every two years and distribute them to food companies.
In today’s global economy, much of our food supply is grown on foreign soil. Under this bill, the FDA will begin establishing foreign offices and will work with foreign governments to conduct international food inspections to ensure foreign food producers comply with the FDA’s standards. Of course, if you eat locally-grown, seasonal produce you don’t need to worry about this!
The FDA will be able to access food company records to track food in the event of a public health risk. The FDA can also suspend a food production facility if a health risk is suspected. Food production facilities will have to notify the FDA of current safety hazards and include their plans for fixing them, and the FDA will be inspecting food production facilities more frequently.
The FDA will create new standards for harvesting and growing fresh produce, and will prohibit companies from including illegal chemical additives in foods (umm...what does this say about the efficacy of existing laws???).
For those of you with allergies or children with allergies, the FDA will be taking a more active role in controlling serious food allergies by creating a food allergy management system that will be available to schools and early education programs.
The FDA will work with the produce industry to create a more effective means of tracking produce to ensure it is recalled before the public can consume contaminated produce. Whistleblowers who report poor safety practices where they work will be protected. Health and Human Services will work with Homeland Security to create a plan for dealing with outbreaks of food-borne illnesses.
What Does This Mean For Animals?
All of this is good for consumers, but how will it impact animals that are raised for food? It’s unclear, according to Farm Sanctuary, who has this to say:
“We support the bill insofar that it is a grant of broader authority to the FDA to act in a manner to protect public health, including increased inspection and recall authority, but we are concerned the root of the problem is being overlooked when it comes to food animals: intensive confinement, unsanitary conditions, and poor animal health & welfare standards. The causes of food-borne illnesses resulting from animal product consumption have been linked to the conditions and treatment of animals on factory farms. Therefore, we hope the FDA will use this new regulatory authority to begin addressing these inherent problems of modern agriculture. So, it is a potential step in the right direction (depending on how the FDA acts – they could regulate in a way that may make food 'safer' but in effect promotes intensive confinement, antibiotic use, unnatural conditions etc.), but whether that is true or not depends on what the FDA actually does with this new power. The bill is just setting the stage for change.”
Does This Bill Get At The Root Of The Problem?
PCRM agrees that this bill is far from ideal, but does take a step in the right direction:
“The bill gives the FDA the ability to take quicker action when foods are tainted. That’s a good thing. But the most important step is not part of the new bill, unfortunately. That would be a trace-back provision to track down the source of food-borne illness. If spinach were found to be tainted with salmonella, for example, the question is, where did those germs come from? Salmonella live in the intestinal tracts of chickens, cows, and other animals. And one of the nicest features of spinach is that it has no intestine! So when spinach is tainted with salmonella, it can only have gotten there from fecal contamination of some kind. That could be through feces in irrigation water, on the hands of farm workers, or some other source, but it has to be from somewhere. When plant foods carry disease-causing bacteria, it is important to find the original source of the germs, which is usually animal agriculture.”
What do you think of this bill? Do you worry about food safety?
Alicia Silverstone is author of The Kind Diet. To learn more, visit www.thekindlife.com.