Is Food Safety Really That Important?

Are House Republican budget cuts aimed at the FDA intended to further erode US food safety standards

Are food safety issues really that important to your average American? Research on the topic speaks volumes. More and more people are wondering if their food is safe. In fact, 60 percent of consumers are increasingly concerned about food safety, and less than 20 percent of Americans trust food companies to develop and sell food products that are safe and healthy for their families [Source: 2009 Food Safety Survey]. I find these statistics not only alarming but a call to action for our federal government. For a while, I thought our government was listening, but now I’m not so sure anymore.

In January 2011 the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed into law. It was the first major food safety act to update federal food safety laws since 1938. Although by no means was this legislation perfect, it did receive the endorsement of some “better food” advocates like Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser. And its bipartisan support made it seem like our federal government was finally acknowledging that new food safety laws and standards were desperately needed to address food contamination issues that continue to plague our nation’s food supply.

Hold on one second, not so fast. A recent Washington Post article reports that according to food safety advocates, “Budget cuts proposed by House Republicans to the Food and Drug Administration would undermine the agency’s ability to carry out a historic food-safety law passed by Congress just five months ago.” In fact, the Republican-led House Appropriations subcommittee not only proposed cuts that would make enforcing the new FSMA legislation impossible, it reduced the FDA food safety funding $87 million below current levels. In addition, funding was also reduced by $35 million for the Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service which helps keep watch over meat, poultry, and egg producers. As Richard D. Saunders, deputy director of Virginia’s division of animal and food industry services so aptly asks, “Why pass (the legislation) if you’re going to turn around and cut FDA’s funding?”

So it sounds like we are back to the original question, “Is food safety really that important?” How many food recalls and outbreaks of E. coli and salmonella do we need for it to be important enough? As I write this blog entry, Europe is being hit by a massive outbreak of foodborne bacterial infections. The death toll has risen to 17, and in Germany alone, over 1,500 people have been “infected by enterohaemorrhagic E.coli, a particularly deadly strain of the common bacteria found in the digestive systems of cows, humans and other mammals” [Source: AP News “Smoking gun elusive in deadly E. coli outbreak”]. How many deaths is it going to have to take for House Republicans to realize food safety isn’t a political pawn? I know budgets are tough, and I’m concerned about the deficit too, but somehow when cuts were being divvied out, the subcommittee found ways to maintain over $200 million in funding to a questionable Market Access program that helps larger grower cooperatives like Sunkist, Welch’s and Blue Diamond promote their agricultural products abroad. Hmmm … let’s see, sounds like House Republicans are more interested in funding business than making sure the food on everyday Americans’ plates is safe. Or perhaps even more accurate, are House Republicans more concerned about placating big corporations and lobbyists in order to preserve their campaign donations?

What do you think? Is food safety important to you? I know where I stand, but let’s hear from you.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Kathy Humiston

    I think a huge number of people assume that the government assures food safety and it just isn’t an accurate perception. Most people have no idea of the revolving employment door that exists between government and agri-business and food production companies; the lack of enforcement that government agencies actually hold; the pitiful number of inspectors for domestic and imported food. There are so many ways things can go wrong. And, if a company is a big financial player/campaign contributor then all bets are really off!

  2. Diana

    I work in the Quality Department of a major food company. My position was created due to the increased demand for food safety practices from the food safety modernization act. Even though funding for the FDA has gone down individual food companies are making an enormous effort to make food safe. At my company we do not send product out if there is an issue and we are constantly tracking every single one of our ingredients through the supply chain to assess risk that a particular ingredient could pose to the public and fixing the issues when they arise. Not all food companies are bad some are actually listening to consumers to make foods more safe and nutritious.

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