It only took dozens of deaths, probably thousands of illnesses, and a general disgust at the practices of U.S. food manufacturers ... oh, and 70 years ... but the House of Representatives has passed an overhaul to the U.S. food safety system Thursday.
The food bill generally has support from health and consumer safety advocates, and many farm groups, including the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Food and Water Watch and Consumers Union. It has drawn criticism from small farmers and organic farmers, however, some of whom see new fees affecting them disproportionately compared to larger industrialized operations.
At its heart, the new law would step up food inspection, empower the Food and Drug Administration to order (rather than request) recalls of unsafe food and tighten some food safety standards. (The Washington Post has a good breakdown of the bill's major provisions.) For all that to unfold, not only does the Senate have to pass the legislation, but various government agencies will have to spend months and likely years drawing up new regulations to hammer out the specifics. Nonetheless, the bill, if it becomes law, would make it less likely that you get sick or die from an outbreak of salmonella, E. coli, listeria or other food contaminant.
As the Center for Science in the Public Interest put it:
Under the current system, food manufacturing facilities might be visited by an inspector from the Food and Drug Administration only once every five or 10 years. The bill that passed the House (July 30) increases food inspections dramatically: every six to 12 months for high risk facilities; every 18 months to three years for low-risk facilities; and every five years for warehouses. The bill requires companies to identify hazards particular to the foods they produce, and to implement written food safety plans to control those hazards. The bill also gives the FDA authority to issue mandatory recalls of contaminated foods and provides for tougher penalties for negligent processors.
Critics, however, are not shy about pointing out ways the bill could be stronger, more rationale and more effective:
"To me, the bill still seems too easy on the food giants that pose the most risk, and a little too hard on the small producers who are creating community-based alternatives to Big Food," writes Grist's excellent food system critic Tom Philpott. "However, as with the climate-bill debate, effecting real change in our food-safety regime the move to create a system that holds corporate food giants to account for the health threats they create is going to be a long slog, rife with compromise." Read the rest of his analysis.
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