Congressional Heavyweights Unveil Food Safety Measure

The Food and Drug Administration might actually be able to protect us from dangerous food if Congress passes a bill recently circulated by six powerful members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The draft legislation would finally empower the FDA to quarantine suspect foods and slap violators with both civil fines and criminal charges.

Among other things, the proposal would put greater responsibility on growers, manufacturers and food handlers by requiring them to identify contamination risks, document the steps they take to prevent them and provide those records to federal regulators. The legislation also would allow the FDA to require private laboratories used by food manufacturers to report the detection of pathogens in food products directly to the government.

“This is a major step forward,” said Erik Olson, director of food and consumer product safety at the Pew Charitable Trusts. “This has really been needed for decades. We’re still operating under a food and drug law signed by Teddy Roosevelt.”

The bill would help prevent a repeat of the Peanut Corporation of America’s salmonella outbreak, but in order to truly protect consumers, Congress needs to charge a single agency with safeguarding our food supply.

House Calls for Closer Watch on Food Supply [The Washington Post]
(Photo: law_keven)

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  1. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    Geez, that photo is Gary Busey and Nick Nolte rolled into a cow.

  2. FrugalFreak says:

    Slap violators with fines or find reasons for producers to whine about costs and further raise prices? Me thinks it is the latter.

  3. I Love New Jersey says:

    If history is any guide, this will solve the problem as well as congress has solved problems in the past which is creating more problems.

    • cerbie says:

      @I Love New Jersey: +1. The big food companies will manage to lobby themselves loopholes, and prevent legislation that would truly harm them (GMO labeling, as one example).

  4. Megalomania says:

    I feel the best way to cost-effectively protect consumers is to regulate what is allowed to be in food when it’s first sold and up the consequences. If they screw up, then they aren’t around to screw up again and everyone else gets a fresh reminder to tow the line. It’s capitalism, and if you ensure the only fiduciarialy sound path is one that includes product safety then everything works… assuming we’re capitalists and not idiots, at least.

    • vq35de says:

      @Megalomania: “I feel the best way to cost-effectively protect consumers is to regulate what is allowed to be in food when it’s first sold and up the consequences.”

      Including HFCS, Aspartame and GMOs?

    • bohemian says:

      @Megalomania: I get what you were referring to. Right now if all the other (insert category of processed food) manufacturers were cutting corners by skipping an important step that assures the food won’t kill people in order to pocket a larger profit than the honest guy loses.

      The honest guy makes less money or goes out of business because the dishonest ones are expanding or attracting stock holders etc only on the money.

      Who ends up the winner in food manufacturing has to take into the equation providing a safe product, that corner can’t be cut.

  5. H3ion says:

    This will only be useful if (a) FDA is properly funded to take on the additional responsibility and (b) FDA actually takes action against violators, preferably criminal action against executives of the offending company. If the FDA (or any agency charged with food protection) isn’t funded to allow real enforcement, and if the FDA provides wrist slaps to violators, this will be another waste of time by Congress, the world’s experts in wasting time.

  6. Trai_Dep says:

    Curses! Darned regulators regulating regulations, regularly.
    Let the free market handle this: eat poisoned food. Die. Don’t buy any more. Simple!

    • MooseOfReason says:

      @Trai_Dep: How about a private company putting its mark of approval on food products?

      Underwriters Laboratories already puts its mark on food manufacturing equipment:
      [www.ul.com]

      • Trai_Dep says:

        @MooseOfReason: I’d be okay with both.
        The thing is, criminal charges need to be a routine part of this kind of negligence, with laws making CEOs and their exec staffs liable for their bean-counting, life-sickening ways. And laws making their criminal defense come out of their personal pockets, not corporate ones. Add a % scale of culpability (say, Snickers uses tainted peanuts that sicken (or worse) a child? Each step of the chain that let it thru gets a proportionately larger share of prison time and $ penalties (closer to source is more severe). And separate, corporate penalties designed to nearly bankrupt a company that does it once.
        It’s reckless and done to profit. If I recklessly gave out tainted caramel apples to kids, I’d face a slew of similar charges, criminal (prison and fines) and civil. Companies doing the same should not be able to hide behind articles of incorporation.
        Obviously, most companies don’t WANT to poison their customers. These changes would allow good companies to say, “See, it makes business sense for us not to recklessly chase the lowest bid.”
        It seems that now, the current scheme makes it difficult for conscientious firms to do the right thing. (shrug)

        • MooseOfReason says:

          @Trai_Dep: I’m saying our country’s food products have the FDA’s mark of approval, but when they make people sick or die, we continue to use the FDA’s services. To me, that doesn’t make any sense.

          If you were friends with somebody, and they occasionally set fire to your house, would you continue to be their friend?

          • Trai_Dep says:

            @MooseOfReason: If the FDA was packed with regulation-hating, industry-lobbyists, wouldn’t you expect poor results? It’s much like Brownie’s FEMA.
            If your neighbor’s frequently-on-fire house had its owner evicted and replaced with an owner who wasn’t a drunken pyromaniac, isn’t that reason to be more optimistic?

            • MooseOfReason says:

              @Trai_Dep: Since you’ve done background checks on all their employees, would you mind sending me a link to the documents?

              Well, you just moved the pyromaniac somewhere else, if not a minimum-security prison. But optimistic if I lived in the first neighborhood.

              By the way, would you mind answering my metaphorical question?

    • Skankingmike says:

      @Trai_Dep: you are aware that a very republican man created the FDA?

      And the free market does work it’s just unfortunate that it works as you describe it.. Lets see Topps went under then Peanut Corp of America..

      Sell shitty products get caught file for bankruptcy(keep profits)

      It’s not a great system but it’s ours.

  7. subtlefrog says:

    According to the link, the bill is status quo with monitoring, but would “allow the FDA to require private laboratories used by food manufacturers to report the detection of pathogens in food products directly to the government.” So they don’t get to sit on the results like PCA did.

    Aside from fines, they’d also get the option to recall food and quarantine food that they think is suspicious (which just gave me all sorts of funny images in my head).

    While FDA is horribly underfunded, it doesn’t sound like the bill is just throwing us a bone to appease and then not actually doing anything for lack of people and money to make it happen – these are things that seem like they could actually work under the existing infrastructure.

  8. bohemian says:

    This part is significant.
    “The legislation also would allow the FDA to require private laboratories used by food manufacturers to report the detection of pathogens in food products directly to the government.”

    No more buying off laboratories.

  9. kepler11 says:

    taking the beef industry for example (see Michael Pollan’s book for info):

    The fundamental reason that beef gets contaminated with bacteria is the production-line cheap-beef factory-farm culture. Instead of applying bandaids, Congress, stop super-subsidizing the overproduction of corn/beef. Then smaller, more local producers of meat will prosper. They often have better hygiene standards than the factories, and plus we won’t suffer from the profit-driven hormone additives at the same time.

    We may have to pay more for beef/chicken/pork, but we already pay for it in recalls of meat, investigations of unsanitary conditions, poor treatment of workers, and the unknown mad cow threat in this country, etc. Look into it — small farms that want to test their cows for mad cow are actually prohibited from doing so. Why, do you think?

    • Trai_Dep says:

      @kepler11: Breaking up the meat (etc) processors would be a huge step, I think. Into regions, even better (that way if a region’s processor consistently poisoned, say, the Deep South but not the West, then Southerners would revolt).
      It seems that having one processor handling half the continent is a brilliant pathogen distribution system, but I’ll bet most would prefer to pay a few extra pennies to not be poisoned. Splitting them up would at least make it as it was a short decade ago: small, local contaminations.

  10. Righteous says:

    What bill is this? If it is HR 875, that’s just bad news that causing more of America’s smaller food producers, including small farms and “mom and pop” type businesses, to struggle or go out of business. It’s no wonder that that particular resolution has ties to Monsanto.

    If this is HR 759 introduced by Dingle, I don’t see Waxman’s name on the document as a co-sponsor. The Washington Post states that they both were involved introducing this legislation.

    Confusing.

    • Alex Chasick says:

      @Righteous: The bill is a discussion draft that takes from those two bills, as well as a couple other food safety bills kicking around. It hasn’t been introduced yet, so it doesn’t have a number.

      Re: HR 875, I’d suggest researching it a little more, as it sounds like you’re getting some misinformation.

      • Righteous says:

        @Alex Chasick: I read through a significant portion of HR 875, but not the whole bill. While it seems benign enough and in the interest of protecting the food supply and the food that we put into our mouths, sometimes one needs to read between the lines. I read it and thought, what’s all the hub-bub about, it seems as if it would be beneficial. However, after giving it more thought…based on all the regulations that the feds will implement via this or similar bill in the name of consumer food safety, the cost for smaller food producers (especially independent farmers) to comply will prove astronomical. The result will be eventual bankruptcy for those small producers or they will just close their doors and move on after realizing the cost implications. In my opinion, they are ones that typically need the least, if any, policing. The large manufacturers and processors (e.g. Peanut Corp of America) are the ones that need to be monitored but have the most to gain when smaller competitors leave the scene.

        That’s my take anyway.

    • HomersBrain says:

      @Righteous: Regarding HR 875…I’d say its generally good to oppose anything that Rosa Delauro (D-CT) says will help food safety. Her job is not to represent Connecticutt but instaed to carry Monsanto’s water.

  11. vladthepaler says:

    I especially like the idea of being able to charge violators with criminal penalties. Fines don’t so much hurt the people who made the bad decisions, since the corporation rather than the individual pays the fines. Jail time, however, is another matter. Tell a CEO, if someone dies because your company’s food is unsafe, you go to jail: that’ll get results.

    • ShanghaiLil says:

      @vladthepaler: Fines could work on one condition: they’d have to be big enough to affect the overall bottom line of a multi-billion dollar company. I’d like to see proceeds from those fines go to FDA as well, since the agency has been woefully underfunded for decades, and companies would know that failure to play by the rules would actually strengthen their enemy.

      Criminal penalties would be cool, but that wouldn’t be done by FDA, which is a regulatory agency, and not, in the sense meant, a law enforcement agency.

  12. P.T.Wheatstraw says:

    Consumerist is excellent at finding e-mail addresses for EECBs and championing base populism.

    Let’s see how good you guys are when it comes to REAL consumer issues: the vast majority of consumers neither know nor care where they food comes from, how it is produced, and what’s in it.

    When you guys take on something like the environmental impact of feedlot hog farming, then you will have hit the big leagues. Of course I’m sure somewhere, someone has an error on their Comcast bill so your to-do list might preclude taking on any hard stories.

  13. esc27 says:

    “the proposal would put greater responsibility on growers, manufacturers and food handlers by requiring them to identify contamination risks, document the steps they take to prevent them and provide those records to federal regulators.”

    This sounds good in theory, but I can see it turning into a bookkeeping nightmare for smaller farms if it is taken too far.