Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Federal Action on Food Safety

The Obama Administration is taking steps to make the nation's food supply safer and reduce outbreaks of salmonella and E. coli. The new rules call for better coordination among agencies and enhance safety standards, tracking, and inspections of eggs, beef, poultry, leafy greens, melons, and tomatoes.
The Wall Street Journal reports that a "White House panel, led by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, is shifting the focus of food regulation to preventing outbreaks from reacting to them after they occur." The FDA announced "a rule aimed at reducing salmonella infections from raw or undercooked eggs by 60%, or 79,000 illnesses a year. The regulation, among other things, requires egg producers to test their facilities for salmonella and buy chicks only from farmers who monitor for the pathogen." The Washington Post notes that "Fears about food safety have been spurred by outbreaks of salmonella and E. coli illness from products as varied as peanuts, spinach, tomatoes, pistachios, peppers and, most recently, cookie dough." Currently, 15 separate agencies "oversee food inspections in a complex and sometimes bizarre division of labor: The Food and Drug Administration is responsible for produce, while the Agriculture Department is responsible for meat," for example. The FDA and the USDA also announced they "will create new positions to better oversee food safety," as reported by the AP. Many of the new rules won't take effect immediately, and the transformation of the food safety oversight system is "a huge undertaking." USA Today notes the "new proposals give the FDA 'real teeth' in requiring companies to track food safety problems and make that information available to the government." As Vice President Biden said, "The food-safety system in our country needs a significant update. ... We know these are the first steps of many."

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