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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Well I See Obama Is Interested in Food Safety

So, Senator Obama’s Food Safety Bill landed in my inbox about a minute ago.  I have not read it, but thought I would get it out to my avid blog readers.  I’ll comment on it between dealing with more meat and produce recalls.  The Bill is S. 3358 – “A bill to provide for enhanced food-borne illness surveillance and food safety capacity.”

Click on the above.  If that does not work, email me at bmarler@marlerclark.com.  After a quick read, my thoughts are that Obama is right on the mark – a very great start.  However, at a funding level of only $25,000,000 per year, perhaps a bit light on funding.  Highlights of the Bill are:

  • Enhance Food-borne Illness Surveillance

A.  Inform and evaluate efforts to prevent food-borne illness
B.  Enhance the identification and investigation of, and response to, food-borne illness outbreaks
       1.  Coordinate and improve food-borne illness surveillance systems between local, state and federal governments to more rapidly support outbreak investigations.
       2.  Share data, stool and food isolates between local, state and federal governments AND the public.
       3.  Improve epidemiological tools, expand genetic fingerprinting capacity, annual reports on food-borne illness surveillance and outbreaks.
       4.  Establish long-term follow-up of late complications of food-borne illnesses.
       5.  Support scientific research.

  • Establish Food Safety Working Group

A.  Consisting of local, state and federal government food safety AND industry AND consumers to make recommendations for:
       1.  Prioritizing needs to prevent food-borne illnesses.
       2.  Improving access to food-borne illness surveillance data.
       3.  Reducing barriers for improvements for reducing food-borne illness.

  • Improve Food Safety Capacity

A.  Strengthen oversight of food safety at retail level.
B.  Strengthen capacity of state and local agencies to carry out inspections of food processing establishments.
C.  Survey state and local capacities and needs for enhancement with respect to:
       1.  Staffing levels and expertise.
       2.  Laboratory capacity.
       3.  Information systems.
       4.  Legal authority for roles in national food safety system.

  • Implement Food Safety Plan

A.  Assess adequacy of capacity to perform food safety functions of government.
B.  Action plan to meet highest priority capacity needs.
C.  Improve coordination and information between local, state and federal food safety agencies.
D.  Grants to local and state government to enhance food safety capacity and programs.

OK, he had me at hello.  My thoughts on the topic can be found at "Tainted Food: How To Combat Food Poisoning in the United States? Mr. McCain, Mr. Obama, are You Paying Attention?"

  • Amy

    Nice work, Batman.

  • Mr. Obama’s bill is a good ginsu-knife stab at moving towards rapid action and transparency when dealing with foodborne disease outbreaks, but you are very “nice” in saying the bill is light on funding at $25 million; “alarmingly low” seems like a better description. And the funding level should increase exponentially each year following enactment of the bill; in this version it stays the same for three years. Also, 180 days seems like an awfully long time; we need microwave-oven speed, not slow-cooker speed, since the safety of the American food supply is already in a state of crisis. Disappointing, too, that there is no provisions for assessing harmful adulterants added to food, since Big Beef wants certain pathogens classified as adulterants rather than disease carriers, and there are no provisions for review of the soon-to-be happening uses of the very dangerous nanotechnologies that the food industry is currently rapidly introducing into packaging. Final disappointing part: Mr. Obama forgot to announce that you will be appointed the new Food Safety Czar, and you forgot to accept the post! –But yes, this is far far better than anything we have right now, and it’s very exciting that Mr. Obama has started to take notice of food safety issues.

  • Bix

    As I understand it, and I’m prone to misunderstanding…
    This Bill addresses, and places authority with, the department of Health and Human Services (HHS), under which the CDC and FDA fall. It does not address, nor does it place authority with, the Department of Agriculture (USDA), under which the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) falls.
    Thus, where it might someday give recall authority to the FDA, it would not be giving recall authority it to the USDA. No meat recalls.
    I think there needs to be better integration/coordination between agencies regarding food safety — at least those 2 agencies, the FDA and the USDA. This is why a Food Safety Administration or some other Food Safety Umbrella is needed.
    About the Bill …
    These same initiatives have been outlined, and fleshed out, in the FDA’s Food Protection Plan (Nov. 2007)
    It would be wonderful if Obama staff would access that Plan as they formulate legislation, especially since the Plan designates specific legislative action needed to move ahead with food safety. Someone already did this work … Instead of reinventing it, why not enhance it?

  • Amanda Rose

    The 25M appears to fund state and local capacity-building grants. I assume that the implementation costs of the legislation will either be added to the legislation later or included in discussion of the bill.
    In terms of the 25M for state and local grants, it is still a modest sum. It would be good seed money for demonstration programs. Larger funding streams could result from the evaluation process of the food safety plan in general and the demonstration programs in particular.

  • It sounds good at first read, but it only addresses one part of the overall problem. And it assumes that the problems have already been adequately defined.
    I think, for example, that we need to learn from the Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak – perhaps by having the GAO do an investigation of the entire chain of events, especially the issues of federal-state and FDA-CDC “cooperation” and information exchange.
    On another point, it’s all very well to talk about federal-state data sharing, but we’d better make darned sure that all of the labs are on the same page as far as their analytical methods are concerned. Otherwise, the data will not be comparable lab-to-lab.
    Let’s be sure to identify the broken pieces so that we fix the correct elements.
    I give Obama marks for at least paying attention to the food safety issue. Wonder whether McCain would co-sponsor the bill?