Improving Food Safety


I have to admit that my first thought upon reading this article was “I can’t wait to see how the Senate kills this idea!”

The bill, introduced by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) and Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), would give the Food and Drug Administration broad new enforcement tools, including the authority to recall tainted food, the ability to “quarantine” suspect food, and the power to impose civil penalties and increased criminal sanctions on violators.

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.

That comes via Hilzoy who reminds us of Rick Perlstein’s coinage “e coli conservatism.” But even if we assume a bill along these lines can be passed and signed into law, which hopefully will happen, my understanding is that the larger issue in the background here is often regulatory capture. Too often the critical agencies charged with overseeing aspects of the nation’s food supply have come to see food producers, rather than the broad mass of people, as their agencies’ key clients. What’s needed, beyond specific new legislative matters, is some action from the top of the executive branch aimed at shaping the culture deeper in the agencies.