By LINDSEY COBLENTZ, Associate Editor, Food Manufacturing
The recent nationwide egg recall  that pulled more than a half-billion eggs from the shelves has renewed interest in the safety of the U.S. food supply, and it seems to have come at an opportune time for food safety agencies and legislators. The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act  that has been languishing in Congress for a while now seems to have gained the public support it needs and is expected to pass in the Senate as early as September.
While the food industry has a reputation of avoiding regulation like the plague, this bill has gained support from numerous industry organizations, and for good reason. The legislation seems to benefit not only the FDA, but also food producers and consumers.
The egg recall has made it evident that the FDA needs more power and resources in order to do its job properly. Currently, the food safety regulation system is so decentralized that it has resulted in more confusion than prevention of foodborne illness. For example, when the recall hit, no one knew who was responsible for egg safety. Was it the FDA or the Department of Agriculture? It turned out the FDA was responsible for the safety of shell eggs, while the USDA was in charge of chicken safety and grading egg quality. Neither agency wanted to accept blame for the salmonella outbreak.
Some industry critics argue that “big food” is in favor of this decentralized system because it allows them to cut corners on safety without getting caught. Those who hold such views obviously haven’t seen the list of businesses that support the food safety bill, which includes corporate giants like Kraft and General Mills. The fact is that the majority of food operations are very concerned about the safety of their products, if for no other reason than to maintain good sales. Safe food is simply good business.
The reason the food industry has such a bad rap regarding safety is because of a few bad eggs—pardon the pun—like Jack DeCoster , the notorious owner of Wright County Egg who made headlines with news of his two decades worth of lawbreaking. The passage of the food safety act will help weed out negligent operations like DeCoster’s, which in time will help heal the reputation of an industry scarred by years of food recalls and a broken food safety system.
The food safety bill will give the food safety agencies and the industry the facelift it needs to regain consumer confidence. Provisions in the legislation will give the FDA the power to inspect food operations more frequently, as well as demand mandatory recalls. The creation of a centralized food authority will assure consumers their food is closely watched throughout the production process. When public trust in the food supply increases, consumers will not hesitate to purchase products, and that in turns means a more profitable industry.
While the new legislation may require businesses to invest a little more money in safety initiatives, in the long run the bill will benefit the industry, which will reap profitable rewards from a safer food supply.
What are your thoughts on the proposed food safety legislation? Let me know at Lindsey.Coblentz@advantagemedia.com .